Star Ginger, celebrity chef Mai Pham's Vietnamese and Thai street-food concept, is drawing crowds to Sodexo Inc. noncommercial operations. Six locations are open with more on the way.
One of the top-selling items by Pham, who also owns the Star Ginger Asian Grill & Noodle Bar and Lemon Grass restaurants in Sacramento, Calif., is pho, Vietnamese rice noodle soup, offered with a choice of beef, chicken or tofu and vegetables plus a variety of garnishes.
"Customization is one of the big trends we see—people want to do their own thing," says Pham, who was born in Saigon and fled to the U.S. with her family at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. "The pho toppings are right in front of them and they can ask for more cilantro, no onions or whatever they see."
Also popular are Vietnamese-style banh mi sandwiches with fillings such as Thai BBQ chicken, five spice pork and grilled tofu and vegetables, as well dishes like Thai green curry and Thai BBQ chicken.
The concept excels in healthful food choices as well as flavor. "There are many vegetarian options," says Ray Torres, Sodexo director of brand management, national retail brands. "We use lean proteins, lots of vegetables, fresh herbs, brown rice and local produce when possible."
Torres notes that Star Ginger is a success in four business segments—C&U, corporate dining, healthcare and government—unusually wide appeal for a dining concept.
"Mai has crossed over in all four of them in a very short time," says Torres. "As a portfolio manager, that tells me this is a concept that really has legs."
Menu Sampler: Star Ginger at University of Chicago Medical Center
Pho Noodle Bowls:
With beef $7.95
With chicken $6.95
With tofu & veggies $6.95
Green Curry Chicken with zucchini, peas and bamboo shoots $6.95
Chicken & Vegetable Stir Fry with garlic ginger sauce $6.95