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Roll'd - a family success story

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"Roll'd has been compared to Vietnamese eateries in Footscray, Richmond and Springvale. I reckon it's a little more 'citified' than that — less authentic, and with a 'feed the masses' feel. It's pretty good, though, and fills a niche in the office lunch market." Ben Esquieres - Co-founder Roll'd

Today I was reading through yesterday's Age and found the above ad. Well a slightly larger - indeed a full-page version, but the same picture, the same wording. Most of the rest of the page was blank space. When I first looked at it I was confused because I didn't really know what was being advertised. But that's because I'm an aged suburban dweller who no longer works, and, these days, doesn't even go to shopping malls much, and if I do I don't go into the food hall section. If I did I would have known that Roll's is a fast food franchise that provides Vietnamese food. Not just the rice paper rolls, but all those other Vietnames things too - pho, banh mi, and salads. Indeed it's a franchise that is so successful that from it's beginnings in a small alley off William Street in Melbourne in 2012 it now has over 80 outlets/franchises in Australia. Well that is the last figure I saw.

So I decided to look into it - and yes it's another of those refugee success stories, which are always so uplifting to read about. This one doesn't even smack of outright commercialism. They do good things too.

It was founded by three young men - Bao Hoang, his cousin Tin Ly and their friend Ben Esquieres.

I'm not quite sure which of the three had the initial idea - Bao Hoang I think, but they definitely, all three, were responsible for the resulting success together. Bao Hoang was a young boy when he fled Vietnam on a boat with his parents and two siblings. Picked up by a Thai boat and taken to a Thai refugee camp they eventually found a home in Australia, where, of course, the parents worked hard - eventually setting up a textile company - and encouraging their children to benefit from Australia's educational system and aim for the professions. So he became a physiotherapist in which profession he worked for 10 years. However, he had always wanted to go into business, to be an entrepreneur and so the three of them bought an Italian restaurant in Melbourne and started on their journey - with the aim being "to knock off the sushi roll from its pride of place as the go-to lunch food."

They may not have quite done that, but almost. It was immediately successful, combining, as it did in the three partners, entrepreneurship, people skills and financial acumen. And did I say that Bao and Tin's mums did a lot of the cooking.

Why so successful? Well here are a couple of suggestions:

''There are a couple of big trends in food right now. One is for more exotic, exciting, experiential dining experiences, the others are finding things that are good value and good for you,'' he says. ''If you can get that right, you're away.'' Clovis Young - Founder Mad Mex

"Essentially, Roll'd is a glorified hawker stall, dishing up bouncy rice-paper rolls; beef and chicken pho; banh mi (crusty French-style baguettes filled with roast pork and pickled veg); and salads, such as lotus stem and duck." Nina Rousseau - Sydney Morning Herald

I suppose by then we were well acquainted with Vietnamese food. Victoria Street in Abbotsford/Richmond was lined with cheap Vietnamese eateries, where Vietnamese and Australians alike gathered for tasty, cheap food. But Victoria Street is not the CBD and so all those hungry city workers were perhaps looking to repeat their Victoria Street experience.

So how are they coping with the currently practically deserted CBD. Well I suppose the first thing to note is that they have now spread much further than the CBD and shopping malls and suburban strips are fully functioning again. But they have responded by producing straightforward takeaway - easy to do and they may well have been doing it before anyway, but also by providing meal kits, with which you can make your own spring rolls.

They come with ready to go ingredients, sauces, and instructions. Plus:

"Need a bit more instructions? They’ve even provided a QR code on the box, which will lead us Roll’d cravers to a website with multiple cooking demo videos, launched in a multitude of languages." The Age Good Food

And on their website you will find a page dedicated to how they are making sure that they abide by COVID instructions. So you can still get your Roll'd 'Soldiers' fix. That's indeed perhaps the only mildly annoying thing about them - the use of terms like 'soldiers' for the rolls and ban mee for the Banh Mi.

So all power to them really, particularly as they also work in partnership with the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation which helps children in crisis in Vietnam. I'm not sure whether they donate some of their profits, or just help with raising funds, but either way, that's got to be a good thing. And note that any firm worth its salt these days will be found to be supporting something. It is often forgotten that without big business money a whole range of things from the arts, to education, sport and social welfare would not function.

But back to the spring rolls. In the course of my 'research' I saw an article in the Daily Mail which sort of railed against them for charging lots of money for something you could easily make at home - true - and I will come to that, but they gave the example of a housewife from Queensland I think, who claimed that hers were just as good if not better. Well looking at the photographs of the two I would beg to differ - in appearance anyway. A really stupid claim and a really stupid article it seemed to me. Well the premise was right but the example poor.

But that doesn't mean that you can't make your own. Of course you can, and there are hundreds of recipes out there. Donna Hay has 8, Taste has 34 - and that's just for starters. And I'm sure the ones you make will probably have more of the good things and less of the filler noodles than the Roll'd ones. Here are a few examples: Prawns with a peanut dipping sauce from Recipe Tin Eats, beef mince from Taste, a prawn version from Gourmet Traveller, and Donna Hay's - turkey, kimchi and quinoa version. I just had to put that one in. So very today.

They can be very simple - an assembly job really, or rather more complicated, depending on what you do to the meat or fish that you put inside. And the dipping sauce doesn't have to be the same all the time either. Felicity Cloake does her usual survey of all the ins and outs of the process with

"the basic aim to cram as much fresh stuff into some rice paper as possible"

and Luke Nguyen provides a slightly different version which is open and uses a thicker casing. He calls it pho in a roll. So I suppose not the same thing at all.

I have eaten rice paper rolls on several occasions, but I do confess that on the whole I feel about them the same way as I feel about sushi - a bit too bland. But then maybe I haven't been eating the right ones. I now see that there are a huge variety of options - as there are with any kind of stuffed pastry or wrapper or bread. And I do admit that they always taste undeniably fresh and light.

"Vietnamese food is my idea of the ultimate “accidently healthy” food. Sure, there are a handful of deep fried recipes. But generally, most Vietnamese dishes are super fresh, full of bright flavours, loaded with herbs and salads, with just a bit of protein. Dressings and sauces are refreshingly light and devoid of oil, unlike basically every Western dressing!" Nagi - Recipe tin Eats

So yes Roll'd is a much better option than KFC et al. even if it is:

"a somewhat sanitised take on Vietnamese cuisine" Broadsheet

Maybe we have to try the sanitised version before we venture into the more 'authentic'. And if you want to give it a go, just search the net. Donna Hay is a good place to start.

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