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Pho Ca Dao restaurant chain owner rushes to adapt during shutdown

A bowl of pho noodle soup from Pho Ca Dao, a family-run San Diego restaurant chain with seven locations.
Customers can now ask for uncooked noodles when they order a take-out bowl of pho noodle soup from Pho Ca Dao; the noodles take just eight seconds in boiling water. This ensures that noodles are the proper consistency for serving at home.
(Courtesy photo)

Last week, Pho Ca Dao & Grill founder Duke Huynh posted a suggestion on the Facebook page of his seven-store San Diego chain that his restaurants’ Vietnamese noodle soups can be ordered for takeout with cook-at-home noodles.

Anyone who has enjoyed a bowl of pho knows the tender noodles tend to stick together in clumps as they cool, and Huynh was acknowledging that his namesake product isn’t ideal for the now takeout-only service requirement for restaurants under the new state health order.

Since his family launched their first location of Pho Ca Dao in City Heights in 2001, the company has grown, thrived and won several awards as the best pho in town. But since the pandemic began, the company has struggled.

Duke Huynh - Pho Ca Dao
Duke Huynh, chief executive of the San Diego-based Vietnamese restaurant chain Pho Ca Dao, said business at his family-run group was already in “survival mode” before the Dec. 7 shutdown order.
(Courtesy photo)

Huynh said business has fallen nearly 50 percent since March and, while some landlords have been willing to negotiate rent payments, others have not. An eighth location that was set to open in October has been put on indefinite hold. And as more customers switch to using third-party delivery apps, Huynh said profits have vanished, because these services charge the restaurant up to one-third of the food’s purchase price for delivery.

Huynh said his business was already in “survival mode” even before the Dec. 7 shutdown order banned all onsite dining. Congress approved a pandemic relief package on Monday that would include a new round of subsidies for restaurants. It now goes to President Trump for his signature.

“I wasn’t prepared,” Huynh said. “Imagine the restaurant owners like myself that don’t have reserves and just live month to month. This second wave will kill a lot of restaurants within two months. For me, when I go home at night, I have to put on my ‘OK’ face for my wife and kids, but inside I feel very different.”

With the new promotion, Huynh said customers can ask for uncooked noodles when they order. The noodles require just eight seconds in boiling water to be prepared. For locations, visit phocadaogrill.com.

Pam Kragen writes about restaurants for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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