Michael “Bao” Huynh tells us he’s poised to open a restaurant every week during the next month. O Bao, his sit-down, 90-seat noodle bar and Asian barbecue joint at 222 East 53rd Street, will open on November 1. There he’ll serve “modernized” Asian soups (think short-rib pad see ew, Vietnamese pork chops, Manila-style barbecue chicken, and a Singapore-style soup that uses Japanese black soba instead of rice noodles). The dining room and back garden will have what Huynh says is a “modern classic design,” incorporating bamboo and greenery. The week after that, he’ll open his burger joint in the Rush Hour space at 134 Ludlow (he’s still debating a name), then the next week he’ll open another Baoguette at 9 Maiden Lane (he aims to eventually have ten or more in New York), and finally he’ll open Spot, the dessert place at 13 St. Marks Place where Pichet Ong will serve Asian-influenced desserts like ice-cream sandwiches, soft serve, and rainbow ice.
Asked how he can operate at this clip, Huynh tells us: “I’m not Superman — I have a good team helping me.” He says he keeps costs low so that opening three places is the same price as opening one. And he thinks he’s in a good position, since New Yorkers are weary of Japanese and Chinese concepts, while they’ve only been introduced to Vietnamese food in the past decade. His broker, James Famularo of NYCRS, says Huynh is also reaping the rewards of the current financial environment: “A couple of years ago, we’d be paying key money for a deal and get no free time and you have to do a whole build-out. Now, people are giving the keys back to the landlord or the landlord is getting them back in court; I’m bringing Michael in and getting a deal where he gets three, four, five months of free rent, and he opens before the free time is up, in a matter of 60 days.” Since Huynh is taking over existing restaurant spaces, he’s not blowing time and money on a build-out. “When we walked into the Bia Garden space,” says Famularo, “the venting, walk-in boxes, beer and wine licenses were already in. And he’s paying 20 percent below what the last guy was paying.” The low overhead allows Huynh to keep his prices down, which keeps volume in the restaurants up.
So mark your calendars, people: November is Michael Huynh month.