Tuesday, March 29, 2011


since i was in the uk last week, i missed out on some of the buzz from ms. tablehopper and eatersf regarding the soft opening of bun mee, a casual vietnamese place that has opened in my neighborhood. i had seen some of the references a while ago that hinted something was going into the old gelato place, but i wasn't aware of when they were going to open. i walked by yesterday while i was on fillmore buying an anniversary present at zinc details and was curious, but didn't have time to stop in.

yet, what i noticed right away was the design of the branding. yup, i notice things like that.

occupational hazard.

it sure as hell didn't look like the typical mom-and-pop vietnamese casual eatery....especially that logo of the scooter. the logo was quite adept. there are many connotations between vietnam and scooters/motorbikes. also, red is the color of celebration. a red ao dai for a wedding is not uncommon. when i saw that logo, i thought "that looks like an expensive logo" as in...someone paid to have that logo done.....it wasn't a logo that was designed by someone-who-knows-someone-who-is-doing-someone-a-favor-and-is-playing-with-fonts-in-their-word-processor.

to me, it looked like work done by a design or branding firm.

a real one.

then, my immediate follow up thought after looking at the branding was OTD has some nearby competition.

now, anyone and everyone that has read me knows how much i love OTD on bush. it is one of my go-to places. i'm there.... on average.... about once a week. so you betcha that the foodie hunter "business mode" kicked in when i saw their branding. i was also in this mindset when i paid bun mee a visit today.

i didn't go in as an eater. i went in....to evaluate what the potential opportunity is for this business in this area and how it could possibly impact one of the places that is very near and dear to my heart (and stomach). so folks, you are going to see another side of the foodie hunter with this posting.


today, as i strolled in, i noticed right away that not only did they have their logo done, they must have also contracted someone to do their brand identity. it was evident from the inside work done.....for example...accents such as the red canisters behind the cash register, even down to having logo stickers, and other reinforcements of the overall brand color palette. the menu board is quite clever btw. definitely got to give them props for that.

to all you doubters or engineers out there, don't discount how branding can help a business. especially when it is a new comer that wants to make their mark quickly and be remembered.

let me ask you this....what shoes are you wearing? where did you buy them? when you are in a bar and have two seconds to order a drink...what do you order? do you wear any of the same brands that you did when you were a teenager....just because it "feels right"? do you buy bottled water? how many star wars movies have you seen? despite aspects like...the acting...and jar jar binks....are you going to see another star wars movie? thought so.

i could go on for quite a long time.

anyway, foodwise....also, got to give bun mee props for putting a sardine banh mi sandwich on the menu. although the menu is not set as this is a soft opening...but still...gotta give props where props are due....that is not something that one finds in this neighborhood. it also points to how they aren't planning to adhere to some homogeneous expectation of crappy ass divey food that passes for vietnamese food in san francisco. many of those dives put the same 10 things on the menu and by choice, become a vietnamese chain-like junk food joint. they put out crappy and certainly not fresh food.... and people eat it thinking that "this is vietnamese food". it breaks my heart sometimes. other times it just annoys me. yes, i said it. i totally insulted your dirty dive that you love so much. so yeah, props for bun mee for not doing the chain by choice thing.

lastly, this is such a personal thing...but i gotta give props to any place that is willing to play hip hop and old school r&b in pac heights. just because. the first time i moved into this neighborhood, i did get a sense of absolutely wicked delight in blasting too short while i was unpacking. again, totally a personal thing and reveals quite a bit about my personality, i know.


the nature of their seating layout is going to ensure that they are going to be extremely dependent upon "to go" or takeaway orders. it isn't impossible to do in this neighborhood. it will just be a challenge as there isn't the same amount of industry/walk/traffic like one would find in soma, the financial district, or the like. also, as pac heights isn't exactly the "hipster hangout in the middle of the day" kind of place, there is smaller pool of customers to draw from than say...the mission. in pac heights, folks like la boulange are able to do a successful take out business in two locations no less. yet, one location focuses extensively on baked goods while the other has limited seating with salads, sandwiches, and brunch items. la boulange also has their overall brand presence in the city to help them. people expect certain things at la boulange (hello jar of nutella as a condiment). folks like la boulange are direct competition for bun mee as both are targeting the customer who is interested in the less expensive (for this neighborhood anyway) take out options or those who aren't interested in lingering. yet, their dependencies upon take out business also indicates that they are able to spend less on staff/overhead than a place with more extensive seating or menu options.


if i was doing this for work, not only would i be a hella lot more concise, create a lot of images/charts, and do loads more of research, i would detail weaknesses....which i won't do here. the reason being that my ethos behind my blog is to not be negative and after 3 years, i've only stepped off that path a couple of times...for good reason. despite my obvious love for OTD on bush, i won't be delving into some of the weaknesses i saw.

"the elephant in the room"

sooooo, yeah. this makes for two vietnamese restaurants within blocks of each other. this is not the tenderloin. this is pac heights. this makes a difference. one is a super duper casual eatery that is dependent upon take out. the other is not. it could be worse. they could be right next door to each other (i.e., hello jane + citizen cake drama).

as of today and based on one visit to bun mee, OTD on bush has some pretty clear competitive differentiators. if i was doing this for work...i'd go a hella lot more than once...but since this is my blog, i can pretty much do whatever i want.

i love that.

anyway, OTD's dining areas (the bar, the counter, the communal table, and a slew of 2 tops and 4 tops) provides various ways for folks to connect with loved ones over a meal. i've sat in all of the areas and dining in each area does provide a different experience. you can linger or not. it is up to you. also, the design aesthetic of OTD is subtle....it isn't about the brand when you walk in, it is about the overall experience. this makes sense, they don't need to quickly establish a recognizable brand (unlike a starbucks for example) when you walk in. OTD on bush already has one. it is one of three OTDs. it also has charles phan behind it...talk about significant unspoken brand attributes. also, even if you've never heard of charles phan....i bet you'll walk in...sit down...eat....and think "this is really great food". there is a high bar of expectations regarding the quality of food you will be eating at any of his places. i also think that the chef de cuisine at OTD on bush carries out and implements the quality very well.

in regards to the food, at OTD on bush, there is a wider range of offerings from breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, snack, and dinner. the menu is also more extensive than what folks will find at the other locations. the menus at otd on bush don't remain the same btw. there are ongoing changes to it. i do love how the chef de cuisine will experiment with different dishes...and how she is willing to put things on the menu (hello lotus wrapped steamed treats, house made vietnamese charcuterie, banh cuon, even the side of toasted baguettes with butter and sugar)....things that one would not typically see unless you grew up with it and knew the one place to go to get that one dish....or had it at home during a family gathering. also the way the food is plated at OTD on bush is very different than the other locations. this again, is a reflection of the chef de cuisine. from my perspective, there is an elegance to the way the shallots and the bread placed on the rice porridge (one of my top fave things) at OTD on bush. it isn't plated that way elsewhere. this is just one example. these sort of touches are subtle. yet, it matters. it is a culmination of many of these sort of things that make up the overall dining experience. i don't personally know the chef de cuisine..but i respect her...based on the food alone.

the pure range of food, the high expectations (and delivery) on food quality, and expertise behind OTD provides them with quite a bit of momentum in the market and a significant advantage when compared to folks just entering the market.

"predictions i pulled out of my ass"

will there be some changes that will happen to both OTD and bun mee? i predict yes. remember, i don't personally know anyone from either place. yet, from an outsider perspective, i predict there will be menu tweaks/changes to both places as they seek to differentiate from each other. it is in both of their best interest to do so.

already bun mee is testing out many variations of banh mi which i suspect is their way to differentiate from OTD on bush and to be very "take out" friendly. folks in sf don't have expectations for a sit down place when you are eating a banh mi. i do think there is going to be some jousting on both sides in regards to certain salads and rice plates/bowls on their menus. also...in terms of differentiation...
bun mee is breaking out the "mom factor". yup, OTD has charles phan + connection to farms brand attributes that make up their story....and bun mee is going with "the mom" story....the leveraging of connotations associated home cooking and authenticity. mom isn't in the kitchen, but she's listed on the menu and shows up in the customer-facing pr/marketing communications. one should not underestimate the power of leveraging "mom". i wonder whose idea that was? i wonder if that showed up in the design firm's proposal/pitch or if that came from the owners. you bet if i was on that strategy team, i'd be all about leveraging the "mom" factor.

OTD already refers to farms that they source from...and i wouldn't be surprised if that is discussed a lot more by servers and becomes even more prominent on the menus and other customer-facing communications. i think some front of the house folks at OTD may need to have an extra shot of whiskey at the end of their shift for a few months trying to educate diners on food provenance, portion size, and the like. i also predict that there will be some pricing discussions that will occur....on both sides..... for certain menu items.

i wouldn't be surprised if some subtle...very subtle....pr/marketing campaigns re: OTD breakfast, brunch, and extensive dinner options....as well as pointing to OTD soup soon. OTD really knows how to do soup. the power of soup should not be underestimated in a city like sf. again, it if it does happen, it will likely be subtle and very diplomatic....as that is what one often does when one is a clear leader in the market. well, there is also the option of completely crushing or buying out the smaller competitor when one is the market leader...i've worked at companies where we did that. maybe i'm naivete about the sf food scene but i don't see that happening in this situation.

i also wouldn't be surprised if there are folks, like me, who love the food at OTD on bush...and are doing postings like the one i'm doing right now. i mean, really, if i was going to pick a side...what side do you think i'm going to pick?

i think it is pretty obvious.

well, that is enough from me dear hearts. it is time to get back to my job.

until later....


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