Can Wrap & Roll Take Over the Culinary World?

food - Vietnam: Nov. 29, 2017

You’re sitting down to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant. Look around: what do you typically see? For most people, a Vietnamese meal out implies two options—a cheap meal perched on a red plastic table, or fine-dining at one of Saigon’s 4- and 5-star hotels.

wrap rollImage source: wrap-roll.com

Apart from these two extremes, there are very few in between.

As the city’s F&B market becomes increasingly sophisticated, the casual-dining restaurant segment has become competitive as well. Ten years ago Saigonese likely found their daily meals at street food vendors or in small, mom-and-pop restaurants, but today Vietnamese food chains like Pho Ong Hung and Mon Hue, both owned by F&B conglomerate Huy Vietnam, are working to corner the sit-down, casual dining market.

While these chains have done well in major cities around the country, the world market beacons for the aspiring restaurateur. But can Vietnamese food, a cuisine based on fresh ingredients and homemade tastes, be franchised and replicated in other countries?

Targeting the Fresh Market

When Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh looked at Saigon’s F&B market in 2006, she spotted a glaring hole. What if a white-collar worker, either foreign or local, wanted high-quality, healthy Vietnamese food in a clean, trendy setting, without sifting through the hundreds of items on a typical Vietnamese menu?

“I wanted healthy food with good service and a very fresh and trendy atmosphere. It was something I created just for someone like me. The target customer is exactly myself.”

Every bit the professional, energetic and passionate businesswoman she sought to cater to, Oanh developed the concept for Wrap & Roll before setting off on a country-wide trip to decide what rolled cuisine was really all about. She discovered almost 100 different wrap and roll dishes, and settled on just 60 easily replicated and fresh varieties, focused on two different culinary models: the pre-made roll, and the do-it-yourself.

wrap rollImage source: wrap-roll.com

After planting these curated rolls on an easy-to-understand menu, and creating a clean and inviting atmosphere on Hai Ba Trung, magic happened. The concept worked, and within a year, four Wrap & Rolls were open for business in Ho Chi Minh City, in key locations like Phu My Hung and Diamond Plaza. Oanh modestly attributes her success to her knowledge of the market, and a little help from the perfect timing.

“The customer targets were all correct, and the timing was good. In 2006, there was a food court trend in Vietnam. Timing is very important,” she said.

Growing Pains

Expanding nationally is one thing, but franchising a Vietnamese restaurant for expansion overseas? That’s another story. At the moment, only the chain restaurant Rolld has capitalised on Vietnamese food in Australia, and soup emporium Pho Hoa Noodle Soup, which boasts to be “the only Vietnamese cuisine franchise outside of Asia”, has outlets in the US and Canada, along with several countries in Asia—but not Vietnam.

So, when the private equity firm Mekong Capital took on Wrap & Roll in 2010, for Oanh it was all about grounding the company in an Asian market before expanding elsewhere. So far diners can enjoy a Wrap & Roll dinner in Singapore and Shanghai, while Taiwan, the Philippines and Cambodia are likely to be added to the list in the coming years.

“We have been receiving a lot of offers from America and even Europe, but we want to focus on this area first to easily control the quality and brand awareness.”

Quality is a top concern, especially when dealing with a cuisine dependent on fresh herbs and vegetables that can’t be exported.

wrap rollImage source: wrap-roll.com

So far, the Wrap & Roll team has maintained quality by subtly altering ingredients to fit products available locally and importing Vietnamese spices directly from Saigon.

Even more than quality concerns, Oanh also points to increased Vietnamese food competition in Asia’s F&B marketplace—a realisation that goes against the now-established narrative lamenting the lack of Vietnamese cuisine across the world. “In the region we’re focussing on, you can find a lot [of Vietnamese food] in Singapore. You also find a lot in Manila and Korea.”

With a goal to open 50 stores in five countries by 2021, it looks like Vietnam has found its first international restaurant franchise.

Banner image source: sk.pinterest.com

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