Aaron Le considers himself lucky -- very lucky. Two years ago, he took a big risk, opening a pho shop in the notoriously white-bred south suburbs, specifically at the Streets at SouthGlenn, where the majority of restaurants are mediocre chains -- or bland American cuisine copycats that appeal to the masses.
But before Le jumped chopsticks-first into suburbia, he'd already tasted the sweet smell of success...on South Federal Boulevard, where international joints, many of which are Vietnamese, dot the congested asphalt. His Vietnamese noodle shop, Pho 95, was a near instant hit, luring crowds from here, there and everywhere to its tattered and tarnished dining room, where the seam-split booths sat more butts than than they -- or Le -- could handle, which explains why the original Pho 95 is moving to a much larger location.
"We just don't have the capacity any longer to accommodate our guests," says Le. "We're overwhelmed, and there are just too many people coming through the doors who turn around and leave because there are ten people ahead of them waiting to be seated."
And while Le stresses that "it's been a great journey" at that tiny forty-seat space on Federal -- and he emphasizes that he's the "luckiest guy in the world" to have a packed house morning, noon and night -- watching potential new customers, along with his regulars, of which there are hundreds, slip out the door dejected isn't his idea of providing the kind of customer service he strives for.
"It's because of our supportive customers that we were able to open a second location, and it's because of them that we've worked so hard to keep up the consistency at both shops, so we made the decision to move to a larger location just a few blocks from where we are now in hopes of accommodating everyone," he adds.
And it's a space that's double the size of the original Pho 95, parading 2,500 square feet, enough to hold eighty addicts, and an additional dozen or so seats on the patio that Le will have completed by next spring. He also notes that the new space -- a former El Pollo Loco -- will have a full bar and an expanded menu. "We're in the process of getting a liquor license right now, and we plan on having a bar with seating and lots of draft beers, and while the menu will include everything we have now, we're going to add a lot more appetizers," says Le.
While all of this is going on, he's also about to embark on an expansion of the Streets at SouthGlenn noodle shop, taking over a vacant 1,700 square feet space next door, where Le will build a new bar (the location already has a liquor license), add seating and a patio. "The business here has just been amazing, and I'm so happy," says Le, who insists he's not getting rich. "I'm spending all of my money on renovations for both spaces, and then I'll be completely broke," he jokes.
But he doesn't poke fun about his food -- or maintaining the same down-to-earth vibe that's standard in both spots. "While it's paramount to me to keep up the food quality that we're known for -- and continue to make it better -- we still always want to be that hole-in-the-wall kind of place, because that's who we are, but it's equally important to me to update things a little bit, to keep improving upon everything we're doing," concludes Le.
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The new Federal digs will be located at 1401 South Federal, and Le hopes to open in late October. The expansion at the Streets at SouthGlenn location should be completed by Thanksgiving.