Fast-Food Bánh Mì? Yum Tests America's Appetite for Vietnamese Sandwiches

Courtesy Yum Brands

Yum! Brands is branching out into bánh mì with a Texas test of its new Vietnamese fast-food concept.

The latest experiment for the fast-food giant behind Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell focuses on the Vietnamese sandwiches at two new restaurants called Banh Shop. The first location opens in Dallas on Friday, and the second will open later this month at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Courtesy Yum Brands

The move seems like another challenge to Chipotle. Yum recently introduced U.S. Taco—a pilot effort in California that puts American fare like fried chicken and pulled pork into a taco—as an apparent answer to the popular fast-casual burrito chain. Now, Bahn Shop seems like a response to Chipotle’s Southeast Asian offshoot, ShopHouse, which has eight stores.

Whether there will be any widespread appetite for Southeast Asian cuisine among the fast-casual mainstream in the U.S. remains an open question. Basic awareness might be a limiting factor for Yum’s Vietnamese sandwich push. Look no further than the paltry number of Google searches for “banh mi” vs. the overwhelming hunger for “taco” queries.

Banh Shop originally seemed like an idea aimed at foreign markets. When Bloomberg Businessweek asked Yum about the upcoming launch earlier this year, a spokeswoman said it was exploring the concept “for potential international expansion some day in the future.” Yet menu items such as “The American,” which uses ham and salami, suggest that the domestic market is still in the running, and the fanfare surrounding the Dallas debut mentions the “growing popularity” of Southeast Asian fare in the U.S. A Yum representative said on Friday there are no plans yet to expand beyond the two test stores.

Banh Shop offers a menu explainer. Yes, there's sriracha

Bánh mì sandwiches—which traditionally use fillings like pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, or grilled pork with cilantro, pickled carrots, and cucumbers inside a baguette—are priced from $5.95 to $6.95 each at Banh Shop.

The U.S. fast-food industry has been struggling as consumers remain cautious about their spending. Restaurant operators are looking for new ideas that might set them apart from the rest of the pack. In addition to U.S. Taco and Banh Shop, Yum also has a chicken sandwich restaurant called Super Chix and is experimenting with a higher-end KFC concept called KFC Eleven.

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