A Taste of Vietnam

Roll’d Australia

Roll’d Australia offers a fresh new alternative to the standard fast food fare. “Our offering is simply unique in the market we’re playing in,” says Co-founder Bao Hoang.

“Currently in the fast-casual food arena, much of the offering already has a number of players and they’ve been around a while – sushi, Mexican, burgers, sandwiches / wraps with coffee, etc. People were clearly looking for an alternative.”

Mr. Hoang knew that the market was hungry for a “fresh, fast, affordable and healthy option” – and he also knew exactly how to fill that gap. The answer was right there, in his mother’s kitchen. “It all stemmed from my appetite for my mother Phien’s cooking, a passion for Vietnamese culture and a good dose of entrepreneurial spirit,” Mr. Hoang remembers. “My wife and I often talked about a need for an alternative to sushi and after countless compliments over the Rice Paper Rolls (amongst many other items also) that my mum served up at family functions, an idea was born.”

Mr. Hoang’s childhood friend, Ray Esquieres, and his cousin, Tin Ly, quickly got on board with the idea of a fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant and they all joined forces to work on the concept. “Guided by our core values of keeping the food simple, fresh, and equally important, fast and mobile, we formed our menu,” says Mr. Hoang. After two years of brainstorming, taste tasting, and developing the business, the team launched their first location in Melbourne’s CBD in May 2012.

The restaurant opened to a queue of nearly 30 eager customers – and the only marketing was a poster version of the menu taped to the front window. “Our gut instincts were correct – we’d hit a niche.” Word of the innovative restaurant travelled fast, and soon the team was serving lunch to 800 customers over a three hour period each day. An expansion was the obvious next step. “Buoyed by the remarkable success of our first venture we opened four more stores, and by May 2013 we were achieving monthly sales of $500,000, all in Melbourne’s city centre.”

The team planned for this expansion from day one, which helped seal the company’s successful growth. “From a business sense, I think we set ourselves apart in that, from the beginning, we strategized to expand, and expand fast,” Mr. Hoang remarks. “Hence, we already thought ahead about systems and procedures that would allow us to grow, whilst maintaining consistency in our product and service. I think [having] foresight from the beginning always helps to keep you ahead of the game.”

Expanding so quickly has still had its challenges, however. “The last 20 or so months have been focused on getting a strong foothold in the market, and fast,” Mr. Hoang explains. “With this comes challenges around keeping quality and consistency across the stores, not only with the food but customer service also. To overcome these we’ve taken a very systematic, McDonalds-like approach to our operations and created very detailed documentation and training programs, which are constantly updated with analysis from our operational manager, area managers and the franchisees themselves.”

Understanding what diners want has also been crucial. “We always like to keep a close eye on the market and the trends in hospitality and even lifestyles in general,” Mr. Hoang says. The team also gets input directly from customers. “We do hammer the importance of feedback to everyone in our system, even our customers.” In addition, everyone involved with the company is expected to operate in a way that will ensure customer satisfaction. “We’ve had a sharp focus on only employing staff and partnering with businesses that truly add value, and moving forward we’re excited about the possibilities of really providing that memorable customer experience across the board.”

One sure way to keep customers happy – and coming back for more – is reasonable pricing. “We wanted people to eat our food every day, just as we did growing up,” Mr. Hoang shares. “[This] means we need to keep our price point relatively low.” The team also realized that they needed to provide enough variation to maintain customer interest long term. “We chose a menu with enough choice to allow our customers to enjoy variety, and not be bored with the same old bread, bun, or wrap with three fillings each day.”

Roll’d Australia also attracts customers because it provides an experience that goes beyond the food itself. The company has “a defined brand story that is personable and relatable,” Mr. Hoang explains. “These days, I feel people are smarter and much more discerning about where they eat and how it reflects on their own personality. It’s not enough anymore just to stock display cabinets [and] fridges with amazing looking food – it all needs to be wrapped up in an experience. It starts with the food then extends to everything else from the music, to the décor, to the uniforms, to the language expressed by staff, on brochures, menu panels and websites – people want to know what you stand for.”

Roll’d Australia’s branding focuses heavily on its Vietnamese heritage, and the team has made Vietnamese language and culture a key part of the dining experience. “Menu selection too will always be guided by our Vietnamese heritage, and we’re very mindful not to deviate to suffice the latest trend, such as dumplings or tacos,” Mr. Hoang insists. “It’s one of our goals, and we feel our duty even, to educate and share our passion for Vietnamese food, and the culture itself.”

At Roll’d Australia, just ordering off the menu can be a valuable learning experience. “For example it always frustrated us when people referred to our classic soup, Phở, as ‘foe’ as in ‘phone’, when it’s more like, ‘fuh’ as in ‘fun’,” Mr. Hoang remarks. “So this year we’re hoping to sharpen our brand messaging to reflect more authenticity and be true to the Vietnamese culture, and share this with our customers so when they go to Vietnam themselves – which we hope they all eventually do – they feel empowered to use the language and be more at home with the culture. With many of our customers being Gen Y, and with a travel bug, one of our aims has always been to make people feel like they’d be missing out if they didn’t book a flight and explore this gorgeous country, Vietnam.”

Diners who aren’t headed overseas will still have plenty of opportunity to experience a taste of Vietnam without leaving Australia; the restaurant is increasing its focus on catering, online ordering, and home delivery in order to reach more customers. “We’re all working ‘round the clock with all these projects, and we’re hopeful that all our hard work will pay off. We’re already trialling the services, so keep a look out if you’re a customer at city and inner city stores for our upcoming promotions. In particular, Roll’d. QV for online ordering and Roll’d. Barkly Square in Brunswick for home delivery.” The team has also secured a number of sites around Australia that they feel fits the Roll’d brand well, so the groundwork for additional locations is already being laid.

There are also new foods to bring on board, although introducing them to the Australian palate may take a slightly different strategy. “With so many recipes still in our mum’s repertoire – recipes that are delicious, but a little more exotic and adventurous – we believe there’s definitely room for Vietnamese cuisine in areas where Roll’d can’t go. It would just require tweaks in menu, branding, and interiors, so there’s another opportunity.”

With a solid foothold already established, the future is wide open for Roll’d Australia. This fresh, exotic alternative to fast food is taking Australia by storm – and the team is only getting started. “There is so much more to be shared about our passion for Vietnamese food and culture,” Mr. Hoang says. “There’s an abundance of opportunity for us and it’s just about picking the right timing for it all. We look forward to what the rest of the year will bring.”

For more information about Roll’d Australia, please visit http://www.rolld.com.au.

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