White-Owned Pho Restaurant That Tried to Trademark The Word ‘Pho’ Under Fire For ‘Vegan Pho’

Their new courgette noodle "pho" is sparking another debate on cultural appropriation through food

A pho restaurant chain owned by Stephen and Juliette Wall in the U.K. went viral in 2013 for trademarking the word “pho” and attempting to sue a smaller Vietnamese business who used the word in their name.

Recently, the White-owned Vietnamese restaurant has come under fire again for their new menu, which includes carb-free courgette (zucchini) and butternut squash noodle pho, cauliflower “rice” bowls, and other vegan and gluten-free dishes.

Despite advertising themselves to be an authentic Vietnamese street food chain, the new menu clearly strays far from the traditional Vietnamese recipes which many believe makes this another case of cultural appropriation.

In an interview with Taste of Manchester, Stephen Wall claimed that while the owners are not Vietnamese, “[they] have all nationalities working for [them], trained to follow carefully constructed authentic recipes using the best, freshest ingredients.”

They have also stated on their website that the name of their restaurant, “pho” is pronounced as “foe,” which differs from the Vietnamese pronunciation “fuh.”

The idea for the restaurant came after the married couple quit their marketing jobs and traveled to Vietnam in 2004 where they tasted pho for the very first time. Pho Holdings Ltd currently owns 27 restaurants across England and released the following statement in 2013 after successfully trademarking the word “pho” as their restaurant name:

“…we have to ask all restaurants, large and small, to refrain from using the trademark Pho in their name. And with what we think is a fair amount of time to rename… ”

-Stephen and Juliette Wall, Founders of Pho

Ultimately, their attempts to force smaller authentic Vietnamese pho restaurants to change their names was unsuccessful due to the large volume of complaints and severe backlash. The dispute ended with a public apology on Twitter.

Years after this incident, people are questioning whether the chain has fully learned their lesson on respecting Vietnamese cuisine and culture after discovering what they were selling as a part of their new menu. Several dissatisfied customers took to the restaurant’s Google page to express their concerns over the chain’s inauthenticity:

“Not authentic. I ordered a bun vermicelli noodles with beef and when I asked 3 different staff for fish sauce none of them knew what it was?!! Doesn’t come with your regular salad and pickled veg. Beef was overcooked and hard. Not impressed and wouldn’t come back.”

“Absolutely disgusting!!! I think this is total disrespect to my culture!!!!!!”

“Not authentic as this is the westernised version of ‘Vietnamese’ food (I’m Vietnamese). The noodles are really hard and the flavours are really bland. If you really want authentic Vietnamese food, go to a family run Vietnamese restaurants.”

“Terrible Pho. Warm soup and watered down broth. Minimal meat. Industrial noodles, too thick and nothing in here is Vietnamese style. This is how soulless enterprise kills a wonderful dish.”

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