What is your full name, title, and business name?
Brian White, Owner, Pho Fast
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Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Pho Fast happily serves delicious, authentic Vietnamese pho with homemade, nutrient-rich bone broth. We pride ourselves in sourcing top quality ingredients and being naturally gluten-free and dairy-free, and never needing to add MSG.
How did the idea for your business come about?
When Pho Fast was simply a food cart on Ohio State’s campus, we filled a void for fast, healthy food options. It quickly became apparent that our supply with a simple food cart could not keep up with the demand. As I looked for ways to expand the business, I discovered that the same void existed in the corporate food court market, so our transition to those spaces was a natural move. Once we established ourselves in that market, we were asked every day when we would open our own brick and mortar restaurant to provide people with quality, healthy food outside of the lunch hour. I’m incredibly grateful that that dream is becoming a reality.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
I knew we had something special when it was below freezing and we still had a line of people standing outside at our food cart on OSU’s campus. As we transitioned to the corporate food courts, we went from one location to thirteen in only six months. That solidified it. Again and again I’ve been blown away by our customers’ love of our food.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Being an entrepreneur and business owner means if you don’t wake up every day and hustle, you won’t be able to eat. There is no base salary, no job description, no safety net. This can make entrepreneurship a lonely road at times because not everyone understands what that level of commitment looks like day in and day out. The flip side is there are no limits. If I want to pursue endeavors in completely unrelated arenas, I can. If I want to work remotely, I can. But it all comes at a cost. For me, that cost for a while was my waistline and hairline. The good news is I can fix one of those.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
I wouldn’t start this business anywhere else. Columbus is one of the best kept secrets in America. We
have a thriving, educated, diverse community that I have loved seeing grow and evolve throughout my life. I’m proud to be a small business owner in my beloved hometown.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
Proudly Columbus born and raised. Graduated from Dublin Scioto High School and The Ohio State University. I love traveling and it’s so fun to experience Columbus as though I am a tourist. On weekends you can find me hiking in the Columbus Metro Parks with my dog, Luca. I enjoy playing kickball at Goodale Park and the Columbus Commons, seeing the polar bears at the Columbus Zoo and the different exhibits at the Franklin Park Conservatory. I love going to Blue Jackets and Buckeye games, and I think the Columbus Symphony is massively underrated. We have a lot to offer here.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Be honest with yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses – not what you wish they were but how you truly function in reality. Pay good, honest people to do what you are not best at and focus your time where you are most talented.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
The importance of self care. Once I officially incorporated and moved forward with my first business I didn’t take a vacation for five years. I also put my general health on the back burner. I have since learned that the better I take care of myself the better I can take care of my businesses.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
What used to keep me up at night was constantly trying to anticipate what would happen next and what I needed to do to get out ahead of it. It was like a giant chess match where I felt I needed to prepare for every possible potential outcome. Over time I learned to do that more efficiently and effectively without the sleep loss. These days my biggest challenge is managing how quickly we grow.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I see opportunity everywhere. I can’t look at a business and not think of ways to improve it. I can’t see a need for something and not start thinking of ways to fill the void. I have to force myself to focus on my highest revenue-generating business opportunities and those which I am most passionate about and that bring me joy…otherwise I would be opening a new business every week.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
The top two reasons I think most business owners fail are: making the wrong choice when hiring or partnering with people, and having unrealistic expectations. I have made both of these mistakes.
What makes me different is I think you have to be a little crazy to do this kind of thing, which I am. I have a ridiculous amount of belief in myself and in something that exists only in my mind.
What was you biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
My biggest mistake has been not taking better care of myself. It’s been challenging to have balance in my life and far too easy to put my health and happiness on the back burner. I’ve been working on getting back to things that bring me joy and managing my stress level more effectively.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
The Square app. I can invoice clients from anywhere in the world.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
Day one. I am at my best when I am delegating to the right people, not when I am doing everything myself. I own multiple companies and understand that each business’ daily needs are oftentimes too much for one person to handle efficiently.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
The shift from food cart to corporate food courts was a major pivot and ultimately spring boarded us to where we are today – ready to open our first restaurant.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out?
We tested some other menu options, but our customers have always made it clear that our pho is what they crave!
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
High quality ingredients. We source our own bones to make authentic bone broth from scratch, which is a 16 hour process. The rich flavor and nutrition benefits are worth every bit of that time. We only use hormone-free chicken and halal grass-fed lamb. We season with natural herbs and spices and sea salt, never table salt. I refuse to use MSG, artificial flavors, colors, or chemicals of any kind. We only serve food I’d feel comfortable serving my family, and I’m a stickler with ingredients.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Currently working on opening our first restaurant. Doors are expected to open in late February 2019.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Facebook. I love interacting with our customers and receiving immediate feedback.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)?
I have to give credit where credit is due. Leo, my corporate catering manager, is an incredible person who has taken this business and put it on his back. He is a local celebrity at our corporate food court locations because he is always making customers smile. Leo puts so much love and energy into what we do. I am so grateful to have Leo and value him tremendously.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
My sister. She has an unwavering belief in me, but isn’t afraid to call me out when she disagrees with me. Her background was in psychology and sales/marketing, and now she is a logistical ninja as a stay at home mom to my twin nephews. She is able to see all sides of an issue and strategize, or just listen and be supportive when plans have gone belly up. She is brilliant and needs to start her own company.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
The largest fast casual pho restaurant (chain is a bad word, right?) in the country.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Elon Musk. I realize he has become somewhat controversial, but he isn’t afraid to take risks and I appreciate that he thinks outside of the box.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Addis Restaurant. I am a big fan of “mom and pop” authentic restaurants. I’m sharing one of my best kept secrets here but the food deserves to be tasted.