Atlanta Orders In: Pandemic has slowed Pho Ga Tony Tony’s plans to grow

A chef from Philadelphia and an entrepreneur in Atlanta, both Vietnamese-Americans, open a pho shop in Norcross. Basically, there's one dish on the menu — the legendary pho ga (chicken noodle soup) that the chef's mom and pop turned into a destination dish at their tiny restaurant in Philly.

Soon, Atlantans are slurping noodles and dipping chicken in the salty, citrusy sauce that comes on the side, and chef Tony Le and partner Vinh Nguyen launch an ambitious business plan to open two new Atlanta stores and one in Las Vegas.

The tale of Pho Ga Tony Tony will have a familiar ring if you’ve been following the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Atlanta restaurants and small businesses. “In the middle of March, it just got really bad,” Nguyen said, describing how his business froze, just as he was trying to expand. He had to dial back plans to turn Pho Ga Tony Tony into a small chain.

The restaurant suspended operations from mid-March to mid-May. Plans for a 5,000-square-foot Chamblee space that would double as company headquarters are on hold. A Duluth location, originally scheduled to open in May, has been postponed until the end of July, and may take longer. The Las Vegas deal fell apart after a disagreement with the landlord, so that's one less thing for the partners to worry about, Nguyen said, clearly relieved. (The entrepreneur also owns a beauty-supply company and has dabbled in commercial real estate.)

“We are still open and running,” he said of the Jimmy Carter Boulevard shop. “But, it’s a serious thing out there, and people are dying. We don’t take anything for granted now.”

Pho Ga Tony Tony offers dining-room, takeout and delivery options. During rush hour, you might have to wait in line, and if you arrive near the 5 p.m. closing, you might discover the kitchen is out of soup (it happened to me around 4:25 p.m. Tuesday).

“We only make enough for the day, and sometimes it sells out before 4 p.m.,” Nguyen said. “That’s how we keep food fresh, and don’t waste food.”

Before COVID-19, Pho Ga Tony Tony employed 12 people; now, there are five. The owners hope to bring the rest of the crew back to work in the new Duluth restaurant. To minimize contact, the format will be fast-casual, with customers ordering from the counter.

The Norcross shopping center that houses Pho Ga Tony Tony is a nexus of Vietnamese and Asian businesses. Nguyen said his landlord has not offered any relief, and food costs are up, while business is down 60 percent to 65 percent. He estimated his customer base is 95 percent Vietnamese; they prefer to eat in or call in for takeout, though delivery and carryout may be had via DoorDash.

If you don’t plan to eat your takeout right away, Nguyen has a smart suggestion: Tell the restaurant you want your noodles uncooked. When you’re ready to eat, dip them in boiling water for 5-10 seconds, plop them in a bowl, cover with broth, and garnish.

If you are on the go, an order of pho with chicken already in the bowl is a smart choice.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to dip your bird in that sauce. It’s what makes this famous “Vietnamese penicillin” so electric.


Menu: no option of "fat rice noodles," for now

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: chicken pho (with uncooked noodles) and half of a chicken; chicken pho with white meat in the bowl; giblets. The food was superb, as always, with generous handfuls of super fresh basil, culantro, bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno and lime wedges for garnishing the pho, plus packets of hoisin and Sriracha. I demolished the bowl with the boneless chicken. If you like livers and gizzards, try the giblets, which come with a ginger dipping sauce. I put the uncooked noodles, broth and half-chicken away for later.

Service options: dine in; call for takeout; order via DoorDash for pickup or delivery

Safety protocols: follows all recommended guidelines.

Address, phone: 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross; 678-691-0503

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Thursdays (closed Fridays)

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