Triton comes alive! Meet alumni Eric Cho ’02 and poker professional Maria Ho ’05 on Thursday, May 12 at Triton Connect LA!
In the UC San Diego spirit of creativity and innovation, alumnus Eric Cho, ’02, has reinvented the classic Vietnamese staple, pho, with some key ingredients and a Triton twist. Though his career as a restaurateur might seem far off from his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary computing and the arts, Cho has forged a new path that’s been distinctly his own. His background in visual arts has crossed over into the world of culinary arts with his latest venture: Phorage.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree at UC San Diego, Cho attended graduate school at UC Irvine. From here, he was able to combine his interests in art and computation by working in the video game industry. In the early 2010s, he began a business promoting Los Angeles-based nightlife events. But his true passion would soon be revealed in the culinary world, when he and a few friends opened the cutting-edge restaurant Phorage Los Angeles.
While the relationship between visual arts and the restaurant industry may not seem linear, Cho says “My time as a visual arts major at UCSD definitely spawned a lot of out-of-the-box thinking that could be perceived as laying the foundation for my success as an entrepreneur,” he says. “That D.I.Y. mentality is definitely present in my work as a restaurateur today.”
Along with friends and co-owners Perry Cheung and Jesse Duron, Cho hoped to elevate Vietnamese food in the Los Angeles culinary scene, and began their plans for Phorage on the spot. “One day we all talked about building a concept, and the next day we were doing it.”
The trio of entrepreneurs designed and built the space in Los Angeles themselves in less than three weeks, allowing Phorage to officially open in July 2013. The restaurant prides itself on locally-sourced modern Vietnamese food that is MSG-free, gluten-free and features hormone-free meats. Phorage has since been recognized and featured in Eater LA’s “Top 20 Places to Eat Now” list, Thrillist’s “8 Best Vietnamese Restaurants in LA,” and The LA Times’ “11 Best Banh Mi Sandwiches.”
With the success of Phorage Los Angeles, Cho, Cheung and Duron decided to explore another concept: ASAP Phorage, which opened in the community of Playa Del Rey in late 2013. Unlike the more serious, modern takes on classic dishes served at Phorage, ASAP Phorage stems from idea to serve more fun, whimsical versions of staple items. “ASAP is like the gate crashing, fence hopping, after hours crushing little brother of Phorage,” says Cho. “A lot of that youthful spirit shows with the food that’s being produced.”
More recently, Phorage was invited to be a part of Coachella 2016’s food lineup and participated in the 10th annual Flavors of Los Angeles event, benefiting the American Liver Foundation. Indeed, there seem to be no signs of slowing down for Cho as an entrepreneur. He and his business partners are looking into an expansion plan for ASAP Phorage and the evolution of Phorage Los Angeles “into a more mature full-service concept at some point.” However, Cho also has plans that surpass those involving Phorage.
“There are other concepts I’ve been thinking about… one of which has to do with my travels through Thailand last year, another is a popular concept that everyone knows and loves,” Cho hints. “I’m also entertaining the idea of opening a bar-driven concept since my first love in hospitality will always be nightlife.”
Eric Cho’s journey shows that success is often a combination of commitment and passion. “I think just being passionate about any outlet for creativity will get you pretty far in whatever you apply that passion to.”