Get ready for a fantastic new addition to Charlottesville’s food scene — Zinc owner Vu Nguyen is opening Moto Pho Co., the first local restaurant fully dedicated to pho, a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup! Judging from the extremely enthusiastic reaction of Facebook fans (as well as our own growling stomachs here at Cville Niche), great success awaits this upcoming pho place!
Until you can get your pho fix in June, check out what Vu Nguyen had to tell us about his dream restaurant:
1) Location of new restaurant:
2) Restaurant description in 5 words or less:
Noodles & such.
3) Tell us about your restaurant journey:
I learned to cook on the job at Bizou (on the downtown mall) during my 4th year at UVa. Then, I moved to Chicago to cook at now defunct Soul Kitchen under Chef Monique King. Later, I left the industry and the city for a while and ended up doing CAD work for an architecture firm in DC. I then moved back to Cville and worked for Sean Lawford at the now defunct Cassis on Water Street. After some time, I left Cassis to open my own restaurant, Zinc (420 West Main Steet). I have been running Zinc for the last five years, turning the kitchen over to Justin Hershey about two years ago.
As for inspirations, I’m intrigued by the meteoric rise of David Chang. Not necessarily the person himself but his ascension. It’s kind of ridiculous and enviable at the same time.
4) Three tips for running a successful restaurant:
1) Be properly capitalized. It’s still true: it takes money to make money.
2) Watch every penny. Remember, it’s a business, not a party for your friends.
3) Stay relevant. Matter to people.
Aside: don’t be misdirected by people who answer with “Using the freshest ingredients, yadda, yadda…” That has nothing to do with “running a successful restaurant.” It has a lot to do with making good food, but as we all know, good food does not a “successful restaurant” make.
5) What will set this restaurant apart from other businesses in town?
It will be, thus far (to my knowledge), the only establishment dedicated to pho 7 days a week.
6) Plans for ingredients and produce?
There are plans for a rooftop garden to supply the restaurant with a majority of its produce needs during the growing season. It’ll be evaluated from year to year to see if and how we can build upon it to extend the growing capabilities to be year-round. In other words, it’ll start small and if it’s feasible, a sort of greenhouse may be built to ensure year round production. As far as proteins are concerned, we’ll source from those who can allow us to keep our prices affordable.
7) Tell us about the building and design:
The building is part of renovation project that used to be C&R Auto Service station. I guess I have a penchant for auto garage conversions.
Eli Strauss of Strauss Construction is overseeing the work. There really isn’t a whole lot of design going into the building. The exposed brick exterior speaks for itself. I’ll be finishing out the interior myself, which will be stark white with industrial chic accents. The goal is to have the small interior 38-seat space glow from the inside out like a jewel box.
8) In today’s struggling economy, what steps have you taken/will you take to bring in customers?
Social media networking, recession-proof (perceived) value, and loyalty programs. We’ll stay alert and flexible to adapt to real world scenarios as necessary.
9) When you’re home or someone else cooks for you, do people feel pressured to cook you something fantastic or fancy? What do you cook for yourself/family/friends at home?
I don’t think people feel pressured. If they do, then they’re needlessly stressing themselves out. I don’t know if others in the industry feel the same way or would admit to it, but we’re mostly poor and eat like crap. We’d be happy if someone made us anything. It’s when we have to pay for food that we get critical, as should everyone. Left to our own devices, it’s usually junk food, take out and the ilk. Stuff we don’t have to put much effort into.
You spend a significant amount of time making awesome food at work, which involves tasting frequently, you kinda get tired of tasting the same thing, so you go for something on the opposite end of the spectrum. And plus, it’s work, it’s a job… I don’t want to do my job on my day off. And not to mention, who’s gonna do the dishes? Kidding. Kinda. That’s not to say I don’t ever cook for friends and family, but it’s very far and few between and usually involves some combination of rice, chicken and sriracha. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but not much.
10) If you could open any restaurant you wanted, where would it be, what flavors would you bring to the table, and what would the atmosphere/design be like?
Fortunately I’m getting exactly that opportunity with Moto Pho Co. Stay tuned and find out the answer in a few months!