Stephen Wall is the owner of Vietnamese restaurant group Pho, together with his wife, Juliette, and opened his fourth outlet in Brighton this week. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the new site and further expansion plans
Caterer When did you first launch Pho?
Stephen Wall We launched in summer 2005 with the opening of our first site on St John's Street in Clerkenwell, east London. It's a small 35-cover restaurant that quickly gained a very loyal customer base including Tom and Ed Martin, who own pub group ETM. After a few years, we wanted to open a second site but didn't have the necessary finances. Tom and Ed were regulars and really liked what we were doing and offered to come on board and back us. The second restaurant opened in Fitzrovia in spring 2008 and our third site launched with Westfield shopping centre in autumn that year.
Caterer Where did the inspiration come from?
SW My wife Juliette and I travelled across Vietnam extensively looking for business ideas and we really fell in love with the local cuisine. We decided to open a restaurant serving authentic, fresh and healthy Vietnamese food. Pho, which is a rice noodle soup, is the Vietnamese national dish and the focus of our restaurants.
Caterer Tell us about the menu.
SW We serve a range of healthy starters such as summer and spring rolls and pork and lemon grass balls but the main focus is on Pho, of which we serve 15 combinations of stock and toppings. We also serve salads, Pho Xao (stir fry), bun noodle dishes and light Vietnamese curries. Average spend is £11.
Caterer The new restaurant in Brighton is the biggest to date. How is it different from your other sites?
SW At 4,500sq ft it's much bigger, holding 130-covers and it's the first time we have got a designer, Martin Brudnizki, involved. He normally does much more high-end projects but he came to see us and really got what we're about. The restaurant includes a central open kitchen as well as table and booth seating in the main dining room and there's also an outside terrace. We also have bar seating for around a dozen people, which I really like. One of my favourite restaurants is Barraffina, where I love sitting at the bar.
Caterer Do you have further expansion plans?
SW Yes, we have another restaurant planned for Soho, which will open in the summer. It's a 65-cover site with lots of character including exposed brickwork and fireplaces. But I can't give away too much just yet.
Caterer Where do you see Pho in five years?
SW We'd like to grow to around 15 sites over the next five years but we definitely don't want to expand too quickly. It will be an organic growth that doesn't endanger what we have worked so hard to achieve. We'd like to have a few more sites in London and then target key locations outside the capital - Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, Cambridge or Oxford.