Oakland’s Monster Pho is gifting away free Pho with no questions requested

For most small business owners in the Bay Area, it would be a dream if Steph and Ayesha Curry sing their praises on national television and then write you a check for $ 25,000.

This is exactly what happened to Tee Tran, who runs the popular Vietnamese restaurant Monster Pho, which has locations in Oakland and Emeryville: During a section of the Tamron Hall Show that aired just before Christmas, the Currys Tran surprised with the big check – a lot Thanks, they said, for the work Monster Pho did to feed people in need during the pandemic and a gift to help Tran keep his restaurants going during these dangerous economic times.

And as he tells Eater SF, Tran felt deeply honored and grateful for the gesture. But the cash part of it also made him feel uncomfortable. His mother, Tina Le, the head chef at Monster Pho, always gave him a certain attitude, says Tran, that he should work hard and never expect anything to be given to him. Even though it was so difficult during the coronavirus crisis, he says: “I never wanted people to donate. I never expect money or gifts, no, nothing. I never did. I will never.”

The more he thought about it, the more Tran felt the only thing he could do was give the money away – or more precisely, use the entire $ 25,000 to serve free photo to anyone who needed a hot meal. On the first day of the new year, he announced the new initiative on Instagram with the hashtag #phoforthepeople: “Free pho. Someone. At any time. Every day. Any place. No questions asked. “

Even among the many inspiring philanthropic efforts that have emerged from this pandemic, Monster Pho’s free Pho “No Questions Asked” offer stood out for its generosity – especially coming from a relatively small, difficult restaurant. According to Tran, the news spread quickly and on the third day of the promotion, people were queuing outside the restaurant. In the first three days alone, the two storefronts of the restaurant gave away around 1,200 pho bowls. “It was a bit overwhelming,” says Tran. On Monday. For example, there was so much demand that the restaurant ran out of soup – prompting at least one customer to leave a one-star Yelp rating.

Tran says if he continues giving away photos at the current rate, he’ll likely be able to keep the initiative going for about a week before the curries money runs out, but even then he’s hoping to keep the program going limited basis – maybe just a few days a week at set times.

It’s not that Monster Pho didn’t face challenges of its own during the coronavirus crisis. As Tran reported during the Tamron Hall show segment, business in its restaurants declined by as much as 75 percent at certain points in the pandemic. For the Emeryville restaurant location, he said it has not been able to pay rent at all since the pandemic began.

Still, Tran says it wasn’t right to use the unexpected gust of wind to pay his own bills. “In my opinion [it would be wrong] for us in the pocket [the money] While people are starving or people need help or seniors need help or children need help – because we were poor before, we know what it is like not to have a meal, ”says Tran.

“I have to find a way to help people,” he says. “This is what I was brought to this earth for.”

Tea Tran (right) and his mother Tina Le in front of Monster Pho during their first Pho giveaway the day before Thanksgiving Lori Eanes

According to Tran, that has always been the driving philosophy he and his mother have pursued in the restaurant: They always brought food to homeless people who seek refuge in front of the restaurant. During the pandemic, they gave away free coffee to health care workers and put a third of the items they bought aside and put it in a small cart outside the restaurant for anyone to take away. They have served tens of thousands of meals to those in need through World Central Kitchen and the Currys Eat, Learn, Play organization. That’s how he met Steph and Ayesha. The day before Thanksgiving, the restaurant hosted its first free Pho for the People event – a test run for its current initiative, it turned out.

Now, just as the East Bay weather has turned chilly, Tran is giving away hundreds of bowls of hot photo every day – mostly to hardworking workers, Tran says. In the meantime he is already preparing two more charitable projects: The first is a free food delivery service for elders who live within eight kilometers of the restaurant. For this one, Tran says, he hopes people will send him the names and contact information for seniors who would appreciate an occasional hot meal. The restaurant is also planning a backpacking trip for children in Oakland preparing to return to school in person, so Tran will be accepting donations of backpacks and school supplies.

There’s only one thing he’s holding onto: He doesn’t want anyone to donate money to the restaurant, not even to support their community work. If people want to support him, says Tran, they can just come to Monster Pho and order something to take away.

In the end, he is confident that this kind of regular business will be enough to keep the restaurant alive: “Whatever it costs me now, I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Update, January 8th, 8:39 am:

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