Pho 888 held a delayed grand opening on July 29 after a few weeks of extra preparation, but owners Thomas and Shannon Trinh have been getting ready to open their own Vietnamese restaurant in Kalispell for far longer.
Thomas has been in the business since working as an 8-year-old doorboy at his father’s local restaurants, Charlie Wong and Saigon Garden. He brings years of experience from working with his father to his new role running the Pho 888 kitchen.
Shannon also started as a waitress at the family’s restaurants when she was 16, and she later paired this experience with a degree in business management. Now she handles the front of the restaurant, training employees and managing paperwork.
“We talked about opening our own restaurant for many years,” Shannon remembered.
Pho — a traditional Vietnamese soup pronounced “fuh” — was a natural choice for the couple because “Thomas grew up eating pho,” Shannon explained. “Pho is the main thing they eat when the family goes back to Vietnam.”
In addition to this extensive experience, Thomas said the husband and wife duo is hoping for a little luck with the new restaurant. Pho 888’s unique name has a dual meaning: eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, which has a strong influence in Vietnam as well. And both he and his wife, who have spent more than 20 years in the Flathead Valley, were born in August 1988.
Thomas thinks luck is already making itself felt in the new establishment.
“We’re lucky to still have [my father] and my family around,” he said. “I learned a lot working with him for so long.”
The family’s connections also helped the Trinhs get in touch with a chef in California who participates in pho competitions. Thomas said the family friend recently earned top-five honors for his pho, and he came to Kalispell for a few days “to help Thomas perfect the broth.”
“The thing about pho is even if you have it down, you can keep maneuvering and perfecting it,” Thomas said. According to him, the bone broth is the key to the soup, which also includes rice noodles, herbs and meat.
“Our focus is the pho,” Shannon insisted. Instead of trying to take on a wide variety of offerings in the style of Charlie Wong or Saigon Garden, the Trinhs wanted to specialize in a few select menu items at Pho 888. They said they felt if they attempted to provide too large a menu, “we can’t perfect it the way we can the pho.”
Their menu mainly features pho and two other popular Vietnamese dishes: bun vermicelli and grilled lemongrass stir-fry. Bun, like pho, is a rice noodle soup, while grilled lemongrass is a meat dish with spices and vegetables.
Their rice bowls are also a unique meal since those aren’t offered at either of the Charlie Wong locations. They mentioned they are “still toying with the menu” as they receive feedback from customers.
They’ve also received a little feedback from Thomas’ father. Thomas said he’s always there to “critique us on what we can do better.” But recently, “he finally said good job, and that’s pretty hard for him to say.”
This family influence has been crucial in the restaurant’s fledgling days, Thomas said. He recalled working in the kitchen during the grand opening and feeling overwhelmed by the influx of patrons.
“I froze up when I saw the first row of tickets…but then my uncle said, ‘hey, let’s go,’” and they got to work.
Pho 888 is located at 2385 Unit 4, U.S. 93 N. in Mountain View Plaza in North Kalispell.
The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. They are closed Sundays.
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at email@example.com or 758-4459.