Pho managing director Patrick Marrinan has told MCA the brand has “tons of whitespace remaining”, either in new towns and cities, or in areas it could double up.

He said the Vietnamese-inspired operator would “up the pace” of expansion, having secured new investment, but at “sensible numbers”.

The 32-strong business is making good progress in the “next layer of city” he said, citing Lincoln as an example where trading momentum was strong.

Marrinan was speaking after Pho was acquired in August by TriSpan, which saw him promoted from FD to MD.

As part of the deal, founders Stephen and Juliette Wall remained in executive roles, but Stephen stepped down as MD.

The management changes will help Pho increase its rate of site acquisition, Marrinan told MCA.

“Stephen now has more time to help us look for sites that work, which is a big part of his ongoing work,” he said.

“We will continue to be sensible in terms of site selection, and we operate within certain metrics.

“With the new investment that will clearly up the pace - but at achievable levels, we’re not talking about, 10, 12, 15, sites a year, we’re talking sensible numbers.

“Everyone around the board appreciates that there’s no point in adding a site that is questionable in terms of what it does for the business.”

Under the new ownership, Pho will undergo “evolution not revolution” Marrinan said, with the founders still close to the business, and acting as guardians of the brand.

He said the company was seeing good regional opportunities, but that these remained competitive.

“We are a well-capitalised business, but there are other well capitalised businesses, and the requirements are pretty similar,” he said.

“It’s quite competitive. It’s not like there’s a flurry of great sites that are very cheap.”

As well as regional expansion, there is still a desire to do more in London, though it also remains highly competitive, with recruitment the biggest challenge.

Up until fairly recently, Pho had four sites in London closed, as a result of a lack of staff and poor footfall.

One of these, Covent Garden, recently reopened.

The original 28-cover restaurant in St John Street is set to close permanently, with its lease expiring next year, as part of “natural churn”.

Meanwhile St Paul’s and Oxford Circus remain temporarily closed.

Marrinan said though the business did not rely on Christmas, it was inevitably being affected by a drop-off in footfall, following the move into Plan B, and advice to limit socialising.

“We’re seeing some major Christmas cancellations, but it’s not the be all and end all for us,” he added.

“We are seeing some signs of eat-in dropping off a bit in London. The good thing is we can pivot to delivery pretty quickly.

“What Covid has shown us is that people may not be able to or want to go out to restaurants, but they certainly will order our food from home.”