The Gateway Village at Town Center restaurant brings customers food from his homeland in a fast-casual setting.
Khoi Dang left high finance to return to his Vietnamese roots in his adopted home of Jacksonville.
On April 19, he plans to open Urban Vietnamese, a fast-casual restaurant at 10618 Deerwood Park Blvd., Suite 3, in Gateway Village at Town Center across from the Southeast Regional Library.
The restaurant, open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, will specialize in pho, rice and meat dishes and Vietnamese sandwiches. Prices will be $8 to $18.
Dang, who worked his way through college at Vietnamese restaurants, is recreating his mother’s recipes.
For the exact flavor in his pho, which is a Vietnamese soup, it must stay on the stovetop for seven to eight hours. He expects many late nights and early mornings and even built a small shower in his cramped office in the back of the restaurant.
The cost to build and supply the restaurant is $250,000. It will seat 15 inside and five outside. Including himself, he will have 12 employees.
His sister Vy Vy Dang, who lives in Vietnam, is his business partner.
Besides this venture, the two work together as Saigon Capital Partners managing residential and commercial properties they own in Jacksonville along with soon-to-be-opened nail salons.
Besides Doordash and Uber Eats, customers will be able to order ahead UVkitchen.com.
Dang knows he is in a busy area near St. Johns Town Center with plenty of potential customers, although visiting a sit-down restaurant is difficult at lunch.
“By the time you drive, sit down and order, that’s 15 to 20 minutes. That gives you only five minutes to eat before you have to go back to work,” he said.
Dang’s priorities are food quality, efficiency and cleanliness.
“That is why we have an open kitchen so that people can see what we are doing,” Dang said.
Dang, 34, was born in Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. When he was 17 he moved with his family to Florida on his uncle’s sponsorship.
Although he studied English while in school in Vietnam, he admitted to not understanding much of it. Starting school as a sophomore at Pensacola High School was a struggle at first, but after six months he was understanding the language.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s in finance, master’s in accountancy and an MBA at the University of West Florida.
Dang started working in Jacksonville at Deutsche Bank and after three years was promoted to its New York City offices. While there he earned another master’s in business analytics, at Columbia University.
The pressures of Wall Street soured him on a financial career. He left Deutsche Bank in 2021 and returned to Jacksonville as the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to strike New York City in early 2020.
The opening of Urban Vietnamese is four months behind schedule.
He planned a Dec. 20 opening, but supplies and construction delays moved everything back.
“We had trouble getting equipment. The prices are significantly higher. We called two or three months out to get a quote and then called back six weeks later and the prices were 30% higher and the wait times were significantly longer,” he said.
Dang is starting his employees at $15 per hour. He will set quarterly profit goals and if they are met, employees will receive a half-percent bonus. There also are bonuses for employees with an idea that is implemented.
“The employees are the lifeblood of the business. That is the environment I want to have at Urban Vietnamese,” Dang said.
“I was an employee once. I have had good bosses and bad managers. I have learned the right way and the wrong way to manage people.”
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