It was hot, we were stuck in traffic and I was frustrated. I muttered to my friend, “Who died?,” disappointed at the police cars and yellow tape that were causing the delay. I never imagined I knew the men who had just been murdered.
I got out to see what was going on, and the man in the wheelchair told me there had been a stabbing. He said he had heard it was at the new Vietnamese Pho noodle restaurant in the outdated strip mall, but that he figured it was more likely the result of a dispute between lowlifes spilling out of the seedy poker hall next door to the restaurant with the yellow “Pho 35” sign. The handicapped man was not the most articulate, but I agreed with his outlook. I continued on my way, sure that it was just random violence irrelevant to me.
Hungry, I drove by the Pho shop a week or so later and saw it was closed. I had been there a few times now and always enjoyed the healthy Asian food as well as the talkative owner with whom I spoke each time. Being a Monday however, I figured it was just their standard closing day as is pretty common in the restaurant industry. Two weeks later I drove by the same intersection again and saw a For-Lease sign on the building. Now I knew something was wrong; what had happened to my new Pho restaurant that had seemed so full of potential? Sure, this part of Phoenix doesn’t tend to have nice restaurants but they had had a larger and larger crowd every time I had eaten there.
I had to know more. Back at home, I looked up “Pho 35” online and found out the grisly details about the murder of the restaurant-owners/entrepreneurs I knew.
I had met the Hoang brothers (Timmy and Brandon) of Pho 35 shortly after their new business opened in central Phoenix this past spring. The food was good, but the bright green paper menu was notably brief. They did not serve chicken dishes nor spring rolls to my surprise. While paying the bill, I asked one of the brothers why the limited menu and he apologized, explaining that they didn’t want to serve the non-beef dishes yet, as they wanted to focus on what they did best before expanding their offering. Part of this was due to the cost, that as a new restaurant it is hard to have so many food items as you don’t have a regular customer base yet. He explained that in time they would fill out the menu and even expand upon it. This made sense to me, as a fellow entrepreneur I definitely agree with perfecting certain tasks before branching out, and cash flow is certainly always on my mind.
The restaurant owner went on to tell me more about the new noodle house and I felt his passion for good Pho. The entrepreneur also mentioned that he had recently moved from California to start the company, joining his brother and their two business partners who were also a pair of Vietnamese brothers.
I thanked the kind restaurant owners for an excellent meal and assured them I would soon be one of those regulars. As I left, he smiled and said, “See you soon.”
It was not to be. On that hot Phoenix day roughly a month after our first conversation, in an angry dispute over hiring practices, one of the business partners from the other set of brothers wound up stabbing the entrepreneur I knew and his brother. Both injured brothers managed to make it outside the restaurant before eventually succumbing to their wounds.
When I think about it now, I feel bad as I saw the excitement in the entrepreneur’s eyes every time I visited the shop. He was full of aspiration for his company and I saw that determination I love seeing as one speaks about their own business. It’s a shame that he is no longer here to expand that green menu as he had planned and grow his restaurant into a local staple in an area of Phoenix not known for its cuisine. How over one petty argument he could lose his life, struck down long before he had a chance to reach his goal.
It makes me think also of my own goals and how important it is to go after them today, because sometimes there really is no tomorrow. Mostly though I think of the poor family who lost two ambitious brothers over a quarrel that should have been resolved over a cold beer.
To the Hoang brothers that passed that day, you may no longer being able to create a delicious meal, but I am sure you have left a hardworking memory for many, especially those that knew you better than I.