Pho 14, the fabulous Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall that set up shop on Park Road in Columbia Heights, is expanding into the space next door. A smart move—the place has a line out the door most evenings, and has a thriving take-out banh mi business. I was mildly surprised, however, to notice that the help-wanted signs in the window are written in both English and Spanish. From purely anecdotal evidence, it seems that most ethnic restaurants tend to hire those of their own nationality to work in their kitchens. Clearly, though, there aren’t many Vietnamese folks walking the streets of Columbia Heights. The Vietnamese American Community Service Center tells me there are only some 400 Vietnamese people currently living in the District; most of them move to Maryland or Virginia as soon as they get established. Those who stay are the ones—like Tommy Hoang—who run successful businesses.
It’s perfectly wonderful, of course, for Spanish-speakers to work in Vietnamese restaurants. But it’s probably less likely that they would graduate from that experience to start their own Vietnamese restaurants, which means banh mi won’t proliferate like it has in New York and Seattle and other Southeast Asian destinations.
I would love to be proven wrong, though, because goodness knows I’d love to get some pho on a winter Friday night without having to wait half an hour for a table.