An Ode to 1356

August 7, 2013  |  Ramblings  |  No Comments

I remember riding in the passenger seat as my dad drove us to the restaurant, admiring the cranes of the Big Dig, which I had thought were massive ancient Chinese sailboats.  Quality time with my dad after I turned eleven meant driving with him to the restaurant on the weekends.  While a typical American father and son had a baseball and a couple of gloves, my dad and I had a pot of soup and a bunch of dirty dishes.  I would listen to the Red Sox games on the radio while trying to break records washing dishes, as my dad would ladle one piping hot bowl of pho after another.  We were always the last to leave, but only after dad stood on a dining room chair with a bottle of Windex and white paper towel in his hands, making sure not even a streak was left on the mirror we used in the restaurant as if it were wallpaper.  The crashing sound of the rolling grill signaled the end of a long workday.  Secure the two locks and I can look forward to my nap back to Waltham.

I called Waltham, Massachusetts, home, but my father more or less lived at the restaurant in Dorchester.  Pho Hoa 1.0, our original restaurant located at 1356 Dot. Ave, was the textbook definition of necessity based entrepreneurship.  In 1992, a laid off computer scientist hit the road with his wife and four sons, looking for an opportunity.  What he found was a business idea.  His friends in Atlanta introduced him to the idea of opening a Vietnamese noodle shop.  My father, who wasn’t even the family chef, found a partner and decided to give it an honest try.  It was never his intention to solely own and operate Pho Hoa, but that was what eventually happened when his original partner backed out shortly after opening.

Pho Hoa, which started out seating no more than forty, would eventually expand to accommodate close to a hundred over the course of fifteen years.  In the hyper-competitive restaurant industry, what are the top three reasons I would attribute to Pho Hoa’s success?

1.  Opportunity: In the early 90′s, there was a small, but growing Vietnamese population in the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester (a neighborhood of Boston).  Where there are Vietnamese people, there needs to be Pho (and Banh Mi).  In a largely untapped market, my dad planted a small yellow and red stripped flag.  Over time more and more Vietnamese businesses, including restaurants would open.  Today, Fields Corner’s economic activity rests on the back of Vietnamese owned and operated businesses.

2.  Hard Work: I can’t stress this enough: my dad worked hard, real hard.  The only thing that ever closed the restaurant was a car plowing through the dining room.  Save for that, Pho Hoa was open, and my dad was there.  The pho was hot, and the mirrors were clean.

3. (Good)  Luck:  To garner success in any type of venture, I’d think you’d need some sort of luck.  My dad’s luck came in the form of an endearing Vietnamese community, and a dedicated staff who became a second family.  If you believe that Opportunity + Hard Work = (Good) Luck, than you’ll be happy that equation holds up here.

Looking across the street from my window seat in Pho Hoa 2.0, I don’t see Pho Le.  I see some of the fondest moments shared with my dad, and the stomping ground for countless family/employee holiday gatherings.  Ideally, success breeds success, but for me it is often the case that the greater achievements have come after the greater losses.

I always loved a good comeback story.