If you ever grab lunch from the food trucks parked in Boston’s Dewey Square, you’ll notice the yellow Bon Me food truck — and the snake-like queue of people hungrily waiting behind it. In only three years, Bon Me’s Vietnamese-style food-on-wheels concept has become a local favorite whose success has led to the opening of brick-and-mortar locations around the city.
This is not to give a shout out to to the Boston food scene (still, hello Top Chef season 12!), but because the Bon Me food truck is a microcosm of something larger happening. The world’s growing love affair with bánh mì — the traditional meat-and-veggie filled Vietnamese sandwich — is charged by a greater undercurrent of modern food culture, a movement that values fresh, simple, healthy, authentic, fast-casual meal options over traditional fast food. And, as this Forbes article suggests, millennial-aged diners are at the vanguard, increasingly choosing quality over convenience.
“Diners, especially younger adults in the millennial generation, may be more willing go out of their way to get a tasty meal,” according to Consumer Reports’ latest fast-food report. They’re also willing to pay more to get it.
“I will spend a couple extra dollars on a Chipotle burrito because they source many of their ingredients, like steak, from fairly sustainable farms,” says 21-year-old Anne Gibbons, from Evanston, Ill, in Forbes. “We value cheap, quick food and turn a blind eye to where it comes from. As a consumer, I want to support restaurants, businesses and corporations that are trying to change our food system for the better.”
The fast food industry is starting to pay attention to the Annes of America. Especially when it comes to bánh mì.
This September, Yum! Brands — owner of fast food chains KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell — debuted its first Banh Shop in Dallas, Texas, offering hungry customers “Saigon street food”: rice bowls, soups, salads, and, of course, bánh mì. A second location will open soon at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. There’s also Chipotle’s Asian-inspired fast-casual concept restaurant ShopHouse, currently eight stores strong across the U.S., and growing.
Recent logo snafu aside, Banh Shop is Yum! Brands’ attempt to gain market share in the fast-casual dining space by appealing to the taste buds of American millennial diners who favor the exotic, bold flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine.
One thing is clear: bánh mì ain’t your grandma’s happy meal, and that’s exactly what millennial diners love about it. They demand quality, outside-the-hamburger-box fast-casual dining experiences. And, if Banh Shop and ShopHouse are any indication, they’re certainly getting it.