Vietnamese street foods inspire man to open London restaurant

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Paul Hopper (L) with the owner of a street food shop in Vietnam during his second visit to the Southeast Asian country in August 2014. Photo credit: VnExpress Paul Hopper (L) with the owner of a street food shop in Vietnam during his second visit to the Southeast Asian country in August 2014. Photo credit: VnExpress

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A young Londoner was so thrilled by Vietnamese street foods and the convenient way in which they were served that he has opened a shop to sell them in the British capital.
Paul Hopper, 31, visited Vietnam first during a Southeast Asian trip he made in 2012 after quitting his job at a London bank.
He visited Hanoi, Hue, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City and they all had one thing that won him over: the sidewalk stops that serve food fast and fresh on colorful plastic tables and chairs.
Hopper said he was “impressed” by the convenience, which is perfect for workers who have a short lunch break, adding it is the kind of fresh fast food that everyone needs.
During the trip, he built up ideas to open a take-away shop like that in London, putting all the servings in boxes.
Staff members at Hộp restaurant in London prepare lunch bags to customers. Photo credit: VnExpress
He spent 18 months planning for the restaurant and came back to Vietnam with several friends a second time in August last year before opening “Hộp” (Boxes) two months ago with one million pounds (US$1.56 million) from savings and loans.
Hopper said since he has never been a professional chef, it was very hard for him to recreate authentic Vietnamese dishes.
So he adopts the principle he believes most street foods in Vietnam follow: flexibility.
He keeps the basic principles of Vietnamese foods, uses seasonings and spices he can find at Asian food stores in London, and adds some local ingredients.
The restaurant’s menu lists around 40 items including phở, the famous noodle soup served with beef or chicken, some dishes based on rice, vermicelli and noodles, bánh mì, and gỏi cuốn (spring rolls). It charges an average of 6.5 pounds per serving.
Fresh spring rolls are among the best sellers at Hộp shop. Photo credit: VnExpress
Fresh spring rolls are among the best sellers at the shop, which offers nine variants.
It has various sauces just like eateries in Vietnam do.
The lunch boxes are placed in paper bags on which information is printed about some daily activities in Vietnam.
He has also tried to design the shop to make it look open and lively like a street shop in Vietnam.
He uses colorful plastic chairs and tables but most of his customers grab the food and return to their offices.
The shop employs 15 workers and it only takes a customer a few minutes to pick something up and go.
Speed is the essence of the place, he said.
He said it gets 650 customers daily and makes 4,000 pounds a day.
He hopes to develop the shop into a chain of around 40 outlets in London and then across the UK.
“I want to share with people my interesting experiences about enjoying Vietnamese street foods.”

*Original Vietnamese story from VnExpress

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