Patience and passion fuel growth of San Diego-based Phở Ca Dao & Grill


It took a bowl of phở for Thi “Duke” Huynh to learn about patience.

“When you’re making the broth for phở — the heart and soul of Vietnamese food — it takes six to eight hours to simmer that broth,” says Huynh, chief operating officer for the San Diego-based Phở Ca Dao & Grill restaurant group. “You can’t have the heat too high to speed things up. It ruins it. You have to be patient.”

This from a man who admits patience wasn’t a virtue that came naturally to him.

“I had to learn how to be patient,” he says with a laugh. “And when I finally learned how to do that, how to be patient, I began to see things differently — for the better.”

And now that patience has paid off.

Phở Ca Dao & Grill has opened its fifth location, this one in Poway, adding to a lineup that already includes Mira Mesa, Santee, Rancho Bernardo and City Heights.

Growth came at a steady but restrained pace for the chain of family-owned Vietnamese restaurants that launched 17 years ago in City Heights, born of an immigrant family’s desire to pursue the American dream.

“We always wanted to get into the food business,” Huynh, who attended Hoover High School before graduating from San Diego State University with an accounting degree. “My family, my mom especially, had all these recipes from back home. In 2001, an Arby’s location closed, and we saw an opportunity.”

Over the years, San Diego County has seen a steady growth in residents of Asian descent, with the Vietnamese population third after Filipinos and Chinese, according to recent census data. Mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurants exist in clusters around the county, especially in Linda Vista, on Convoy Street and a stretch of El Cajon Boulevard now known as Little Saigon. But a Vietnamese restaurant chain was virtually non-existent until Phở Ca Dao & Grill, originally called Ca Dao, came into the picture.

Family-tested recipes served as the foundation for an authentic Vietnamese menu that boasts everything from phở noodle soup and Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì) to vermicelli noodle bowls (bún) and spring rolls. The restaurant’s name is a nod to both the cuisine and the culture, with phở representing the food and ca dao (which means folk song) representing the culture.

Authenticity is priority No. 1 “because this is an opportunity for us not only to share our passion for food but our love for the Vietnamese culture,” says Huynh, who made sure to incorporate traditional Vietnamese artwork into the decor of the Poway location.

There have been bumps along the way, Huynh admits, but he sees challenges as opportunities to improve.

“I take feedback from our customers very seriously,” he says. “We can’t please everybody, but we will always do our best. We may not be a five-star restaurant, but we can act like one — from the service to the quality of the food.”

Some days are harder than others, but the reward is plentiful.

“We will always give 110 percent,” he says. “I’m proud of the Vietnamese culture, and I want to share it.”

How do you pronounce it?

The folks at Phở Ca Dao & Grill seem aware of the confusion about how to properly pronounce phở — so much so that on their website, they offered this primer: “No, it’s not ‘foe.’ PCD phở (pronounced “fuh”) is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat,” often topped with vegetable garnishes like bean sprouts, mint leaves, lime and jalapeño.

Phở Ca Dao & Grill

Address: 12719 Poway Road, Poway

Phone: (858) 883-5605


Instagram: @phocadaogrill

Twitter: @outdoorlivingsd