Following a capital raise and the appointment of new MD in Richard Franks, Hop Vietnamese founder Paul Hopper has the confidence to look “everywhere” for sites, he tells MCA.

Hop Vietnamese was founded with the idea of scaling up, and seven years on, Paul Hopper believes he has the team and investor firepower to make that plan a reality.

The business, which had expanded to five sites pre-pandemic, was “looking to hit the accelerator panel” - before the impact of lockdown hit its City-exposed estate. 

With his landlords inflexible over rent concessions, Hopper was forced to put the business into administration in January 2021, and buy it back under a new entity, Cau Lau Holdings, closing three sites.

Despite the setbacks, the business resumed momentum after securing a £2.25m capital raise earlier this year, through a mix of existing investors and several high-net-worth angel investors.

Yesterday the business announced that former Chilango MD Richard Franks would join next month as its first standalone MD. Hopper had a co-MD for a while before the pandemic but tells MCA this is the first time he has stepped aside to let somebody fully own that role.

Hop is now looking to open 20 sites over the next five years, in a range of different locations across central London – a step away from its historic focus in the City, and is exploring franchising opportunities.

It currently operates two sites: In St Paul’s and Broadgate. However the latter will be closing in mid-July due to the redevelopment of the building its located in on Finsbury Avenue Square by British Land – but Hop has a new site lined up at London Wall to open as an instant replacement.


’We changed the operating model’

Hopper says that while the business currently has a small estate, “we know it’s a really scalable concept – it was always built around that”. Its suitability for scale was further strengthened with its change in operating model during the pandemic.

Previously its menu featured many pre-made and packaged food to go items, but having embraced technology, its dishes are now made to order and fully customisable - making it more similar in nature to the build your own operations of Chilango, which was one of the things that appealed to Hopper about Franks’ experience.

Franks’ time as head of opps at Eat, experience at several businesses operating across multiple day-parts and strong focus on people and culture also appealed to Hopper, who had been concerned that the culture of his business could be damaged in the process of trying to scale.

“I loved what Richard has done at Chilango – he is incredibly well-respected for being obsessed about people,” Hopper says. “He thinks that businesses are only as good as the people within them, and I completely agree.

“I would never let anybody near my baby if they didn’t wholeheartedly believe the way this was going to grow was through retaining and nurturing the existing family led culture that we have got in the business and looking after that as we scale.”

chicken coconut curry hotbox

Hopper says the simple answer to where he is looking for sites “is everywhere”. Shopping centres and transport hubs both offer up potential opportunities, as do more residential areas, in order that Hop can extend its day-part focus from predominately lunchtime trade.

“We are looking heavily in the West End, at areas that have a retail-led dynamic, and footfall from tourists or shoppers – and there are a couple of opportunities already in the mix. But also key is that there is still an office population,” he explains.

“We are still looking at places where there the lunch trade, our traditional bread and butter, is still there, but there is evening dwell.”

Locations like Covent Garden, The Strand, Soho and Fitzrovia are firmly on the radar, as are locations further afield such as Wimbledon.

‘We are on a journey’

Site requirements will vary depending on location, but Hopper is looking to open larger format stores, to tap into all-day, seven days a week trade.

In the City, with 90% of trade takeaway, smaller units still work well.

As part of its expansion into new areas, Hop recently appointed Nick Ayerst former MD of TRG Concessions and Leon, as a strategic advisor to explore the possible franchise route for the brand.

“I am going to be working very closely with him on that journey – and it is a journey. We’re not saying that we are going to be franchising in the next few months; it’s about understanding what we still need to have in place from a resource structure, and what’s realistic,” Hopper adds.

While Hop has a toe dipped in the waters of delivery-only kitchens, through Reef, Hopper’s core focus is on bricks and mortar. “For me there is still a lot of froth in the market,” he says, with the market really saturated due to the pandemic. He is also not sure about its profitability.

“You need to be blowing the doors off or you are losing money,” he says. “We will continue to dip our toe in, but it is definitely not a big part of our strategy. We have so much opportunity in bricks and mortar I would rather focus all our efforts on that.”