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Musings on the Restaurant Business

Posted on Friday, Jan 27th 2006

Did you know restaurant services in the US is a $430 Billion per year industry? I didn’t.

Common sense would suggest that good restaurants be placed in high-income areas such as Silicon Valley. Why then does PaloAlto – Menlo Park – Los Altos have so little to offer? After all, the population here eats out a lot, and with the tech-generated wealth in the hands of relatively younger people, the demand is certainly there.

Here are some San Francisco restaurants that I would like to see in the valley:

-Thep Phenom : A wonderful Thai restaurant in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city, on Fillmore Street.
-Chez Nous : A French-Mediterrenean fusion restaurant, also on the Fillmore, but further up North in Pacific Heights.

Of course, given the Stanford student population, some cheaper alternatives could also be great to have around. Pakwan is perhaps the best Pakistani-Indian restaurant in the Bay Area, but is conspicuously absent from the valley. In the cheap-eats category, this would be my pick.

In the last couple of years, a few good additions have happened to the restaurant scene in Palo Alto, Coupa Cafe being a notable and very successful example. We were at a dinner party this week with the owners, Nancy and Jean-Paul, and listened to their plans for a new Coupa Cafe on North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. These are ambitious entrepreneurs.

Another successful one is Tamarine from The Vung Tau Group. The group’s Vietnamese cuisine blends gained its initial popularity with a loyal following among Vietnamese people. The original Vung Tau restaurant, a twelve-table eatery, opened in 1985 on San Carlos Street in San Jose, Calif. In less than two years, proprietors Nhan Huynh and Anthony Le moved the restaurant to its current location at 535 East Santa Clara Street, and went from serving 32 guests to 150.

The family opened a second Vung Tau restaurant in Milpitas, Calif. in 1996, and four years after that, opened a third Vung Tau in Newark, Calif. Tamarine, the family’s first contemporary Vietnamese restaurant in Palo Alto is run by proprieter Anne Le (the prodigal daughter), and chef Tammy Huynh.

The Le family and the Vung Tau group offer a great example to follow for the likes of Thep Phenom. Chez Nous and Pakwan are both on expansion paths. Pakwan has chosen Fremont as the place to go after the city. Makes sense, because of the density of Indians. They could also go the Tamarine route, and open a classier version in Silicon Valley, rather than the dives they currently have.

And if you have spare capital, and want to buy a promising restaurant concept, all of these have their basic right.

Great food, I mean.

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