The Ho Chi Minh City pho shop that challenged customers to finish a jumbo bowl of noodles for a chance to win VND 1 million (nearly US$ 50) systematically sabotaged their chances, according to a disgruntled ex-cook.
On Wednesday, Duong Thi Kim Anh, who used to work at the Pho Ong Hung (Mr. Hung) at 290 Hai Ba Trung Street, said the restaurant's manager, Vu Anh Tuan, told her to put between 1,000 – 1,100 grams of noodles into each of the challenge bowls, instead of the 750 grams advertised.
Tuan also asked her to only add fatty beef and two ladles of fatty broth into each bowl, to make sure each portion is too greasy to finish.
The restaurant chain had assured customers it wouldn't use fatty broth to ensure they had a chance of finishing.
The Hai Ba Trung Street restaurant is just one of four Ong Hung locations.
The restaurant's spokesman, Nguyen Huy Cuong, claimed that in the two weeks since the challenge began, only 10 percent of the contenders, or around 150 people, have finished the 4-kilo tangle of noodles in under 45 minutes.
The prize money was paid half in cash and half in the form of a gift voucher redeemable at Ong Hung restaurants.
Those who failed paid VND200,000 (around $10) which Cuong said only covered the cost to Ong Hung restaurant.
The cook, Anh, told Thanh Nien News that she did not know if the same tricks were used at other Ong Hung locations..
“When he (Vu Anh Tuan) saw a bulky customer, he even asked us to load up on noodles and fatty beef,” said Anh in an interview with Thanh Nien News. “In later meetings, he kept saying that the company praised our restaurant for better work than other restaurants.”
“The customers always gave up in our restaurant.”
Anh said she knew that Tuan’s order was wrong, but as a junior employee, she had to obey his order.
According to her, between 27 and 30 percent of jumbo pho contenders were sabotaged every day.
“Every other workers in the restaurant knew that, but none of them dared to argue, because all of them, just like me, were afraid of losing our jobs.”
“Many of the customers vomited in the middle of the challenge, and they had to give up there.”
The tricks only stopped after Cuong, the restaurant spokesman, visited the Hai Ba Trung restaurant and found out what was going on.
The company replaced Tuan with a new manager days later, Cuong told Thanh Nien News.
On December 9, Anh was summoned to company headquarters and asked to resign.
They claimed she had engineered the scheme.
However, Anh said that the company had not paid 25 days of back wages, plus overtime.
"I have no idea what the restaurant is saying or doing for customers who were sabotaged," she said. "I quit last week.”
Cuong claimed that the Hai Ba Trung Street’s restaurant was the only one that played tricks to sabotage their customers.
“The restaurant had already handled the case,” he said.