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Vietnamese Restaurants See Opportunity at the Drive-Thru Window

Vietnamese restaurants see potential in the fast-food category.

Many American cities, such as Philadelphia, Washington and San Jose, California, are experiencing a surge of new Vietnamese restaurants, reported The New York Times (April 26). And Vietnamese restaurateurs are hoping to reach a new audience by adopting drive-through and other fast-food industry practices.


An authentic experience of Vietnamese cuisine has some inherent challenges for a drive-thru/fast-food format, Neal Bermas, hospitality consultant and owner of several restaurants in Vietnam, told The Food Institute.

“While the ubiquitous street food in Vietnam may seem fast, the prep isn’t,” he said. “Vendors create stocks, make noodles, and bake loaves of bread starting early every morning, not long after midnight.”

The required stocks, daily fresh noodles, and baked bread wouldn’t be the only challenge. There is also the question of availability of ingredients, particularly quintessential herbs, like fresh lemongrass, “La Lot,” “Vietnamese Mint,” and “Rau Ram,” Bermas noted.


Nevertheless, quick-service style Vietnamese cuisine can resonate with consumers. Certain dishes, such as bahn mi and spring rolls, are portable and easy to package, making them suitable for a drive-thru format.

“A carefully constructed menu consisting primarily of the iconic “banh mi” (pork, pate, & herb roll/sandwich) and “pho” (beef/chicken noodle soup) would lend itself to an authentic Vietnamese fast-food format,” said Bermas.

One Vietnamese chain that has already figured out how to scale up nationally is Lee’s sandwiches which has operated drive-through Vietnamese restaurants across the U.S. since the early 2000s.

Lee’s specializes in banh mi, “European-style” baguette sandwiches, Vietnamese iced coffee, and a Vietnamese dessert called chè.

Meanwhile, 1950s-style Saigon Hustle, which serves banh mi, bun (vermicelli bowls) and com (rice bowls), is on track to take in $1.8 million in revenue this year, despite only having one location in Houston, according to its founders who plan to expand nationally in two to three years.

Owner Cassie Ghaffar told The New York Times that the drive-thru is “less intimidating” and is giving more people an opportunity to try Vietnamese cuisine.