September has been a busy month for chef Viet Pham.
Earlier this month, he opened the fourth location of his Pretty Bird fried-chicken restaurant chain, in Midvale. And in the last week of the month, he’s scheduled to appear on two different food shows on TV — and Pretty Bird will launch two new menu items.
Pham will appear on “Smoked Out,” the first episode of the new season of Hulu’s Chefs vs. Wild, in which he and another chef are dropped into the wilderness. (The show is scheduled to start streaming Monday, Sept. 26.) On Tuesday, Sept. 27, on the Food Network, Pham will appear on the season premiere of Bobby’s Triple Threat, where celebrity chef and host Bobby Flay pits him against “The Titans” for a proper fried chicken smackdown.
Pham, ever approachable and gracious, was so busy that when he returned The Tribune’s call, he was getting his car washed, and it was the only free moment he had. That was in August, during the Midvale Pretty Bird’s soft opening. (The new location is at 7169 Bingham Junction Blvd. The chain’s other locations are at 146 S. Regent St. in downtown Salt Lake City, 675 E. 2100 South in Sugar House, and 1775 Prospector Ave., in Park City.)
With the other three Pretty Bird stores, Pham said, they announced the day of their soft opening, “and we literally just got crushed,” he said. “This time around, we didn’t announce it to anybody. We just kind of opened up our doors and let people slowly come in. It was really busy, despite not having announced it, but not to the point where we got crushed.”
Pham said the unannounced soft opening was “a great learning experience for our team, and great training. It was actually probably one of our smoothest openings that we’ve had.”
All four Pretty Bird restaurants are different in design, he said.
“The foundation of Pretty Bird, the principles, are built upon fine dining,” he said. “So the way their kitchen is laid out, the pass, the chef’s counter — it’s the small, fine details.”
The Midvale location, he said, has a magenta ceiling that mimics the color of the restaurant’s signature slaw. Only later did they realize that red stimulates hunger. “We chose that color because it was kind of cool, but at the same time it has its purposes,” he said.
The choice to open in Midvale, he said, was easy: It’s the midway point between Salt Lake City and Point of the Mountain — where Salt Lake County meets Utah County — so it’s a quick drive for people further south.
“When we first scouted it, there’s tons of development, there’s residential development,” Pham said. “It’s right next to TopGolf. There’s a hotel there. There’s easy access to the freeway. We couldn’t find a better place. And we’re super happy to be a part of the city.”
As smooth as the opening has been, there have been problems, mostly related to the supply chain in a post-pandemic world.
For example, Pham said, the restaurant is still waiting for delivery of an ice machine, which isn’t due until October. “That means we’re having to go to Costco each day and we have to buy roughly 14 to 16 bags of ice and we have to manually load it in,” he said.
Electrical panels have been hard to source, he added, but they were lucky enough to find an electrician in Utah who built what they needed. “But you’ll see a lot of big companies, such as Walmart, they can’t grow because there’s no electrical panels. That’s the kind of ongoing theme,” he said.
Inflation and supply-chain issues also are hitting Pretty Bird’s food supply, Pham said — a major problem for a restaurant that prides itself on making accesible food with high-quality ingredients.
“We get chicken that’s hand-trimmed. We further trim our chicken, we season our chicken, we hand-batter, we hand-fry them,” he said. “All of our sauces are made in-house. Our slaw, all of our sides, are made in-house.”
When he first started Pretty Bird four years ago, he added, they were paying $1.50 a pound for chicken; they moved up to an even better chicken, and paid $2.25. This past year, he said, they’ve been paying over $4 a pound.
Pham said he’ll never budge on quality, but for people looking for smaller or more affordable options, Pretty Bird has two new menu items coming this fall.
The new items, arriving in late September or early October, are mini versions of their current menu items, Pham said. One is a smaller sandwich, “basically like a slider,” and chicken nuggets for a kid-friendly option. Both will be available at all four Pretty Bird locations.
Pham is looking into expanding Pretty Bird outside of Utah — but, for now, he said, he’ll wait for the world to get a bit more stable.
“We’re going to focus on optimizing all of our systems, our procedures,” he said, “and then after the economy gets better, supply chain issues get solved, hopefully then we can start our expansion.”