The McDonaldization of banh mi may be happening sooner than later and leading the charge is Yum! Brands, which owns fast food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. Back in April, the Los Angeles Times reported that Yum! (yes, they include the exclamation point in their name) was testing a new banh mi concept in Dallas. The global company said that it was merely in development, that they often try out new ideas. It’s their business. I wondered whether or not they were just fishing for public and social media reaction to gauge the potential for a national chain of banh mi shops.
The company’s banh mi concept played a low key role in Jenn Harris’s April 8 story, which was mainly about Super Chix, a fledgling fancy concept by Yum!. People love chicken because it’s a friendly protein, and the company was developing a high-endish chicken sandwich with three kinds of pickle toppings. I read that as echoing Vietnamese banh mi, which conveniently was the focus of the other idea called Banh Shop. Double dipping of culinary concepts. Yum! is obviously not dumb.
Yesterday, Mike Hiller of EscapeHatch Dallas reported that Yum! was indeed going to launch a Banh Shop location in Dallas. (Houston and Dallas have large Vietnamese communities but Yum! isn’t targeting just Viet people.) His piece revealed that the prototype would be in a former auto repair shop "near the intersection of SMU Boulevard and Prentice Street, just east of I-75". Khushbu Shah at Eater picked up on the news as did journalist and satirist Drew Magary, who tweeted this:
C.A. Pinkham had a little more to say on a Kitchenette post, including, "This is kind of like asking a company that glues wheels on cardboard boxes to design a mid-size sedan."
The idea of a ginormous global conglomerate taking the lead to revolutionize banh mi may make your stomach curdle but I’m not worried. I’m actually curious as to what they come up with.
Yum! has put Pizza Hut and KFC outposts all over the world, including many in Vietnam and China. Now they’re taking something born in Asia and introducing it to mainstream America. Banh mi is a customizable, personal food. What will it be like after it goes through the fast food hopper of efficiency, predictability, profitability and control?
There are plenty of mom-and-pop banh mi shops and more options coming into the market via crossover and mainstream restaurants, street carts, and pop ups. Since Vietnamese people tend to be uppity and competitive, maybe Banh Shop will inspire banh mi small business entrepreneurship. I’d like to see more Little Saigon banh mi shops and delis producing consistent, quality sandwiches that garner higher prices and better wages for workers. We keep our communities down with the notion that cheap Asian food is good Asian food. We need more culinary pride and should be willing to pay for it.
Additionally, maybe banh mi interest, appreciation, and craftsmanship will rise as reactions to Banh Shop. Many of us know the Vietnamese sandwich as a phenomenal food and we’ll hopefully get to share it with more banh mi buddies in the future. There will be more places where we can buy good banh mi but we’ll also feel empowered to make our own -- from traditional renditions with pate and cold cuts to creative new banh mi that reflect where we live and how we like to cook and eat. You can easily make fantastic banh mi with readily available ingredients. Trust me.
There are many possible upsides to Banh Shop. However, a potential downside is that the fast food chain ends up defining what banh mi is.
Vietnamese people in Texas -- I hope some of you get a chance to try out Banh Shop. Whether or not you’re Viet, if you have the opportunity, give it a try and let us know what you think. Let Yum! (@yumbrands) know what you think too.
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