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And the winner is (drum roll, please) … Fare Games Announces “Pho on the Block”

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Pho On The Block - Fare Games

We're happy to share this article by Gretchen Johnson, owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications. Also read KzooConnect’s original story on the Fare Games contest.

Fare Games contest organizers announced recently that Pho on the Block, a hip, contemporary restaurant featuring Vietnamese cuisine, will soon grace Edison Neighborhood's Washington Square.

The announcement marks the culmination of Fare Games, a business plan competition for entrepreneurial foodies. Participants vied for a prize package that included leasing - at a minimal rate - a renovated property at 1301 Portage Street. The building, at the crossroads of Portage and Washington streets, has anchored Edison's central business district for nearly a century.

Vacant for more than a decade, the building is now owned by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, which partially renovated the facility as part of the contest. A final build-out will be made to Pho's specific needs. It is slated to open later this year or early in 2017.

The eatery is a long-held dream of entrepreneur Reggie Kaur, who secured the win with her business partner Nancy Tien of Toronto.

"It will feature a metallic and wood interior for a hip, urban vibe," said Kaur. "But we're keeping a section of the original bank's marble floor as an homage to its long history in the neighborhood."

Among its previous incarnations, the building housed a bank, a drug store, and an insurance agency.

"Our focus will be on fresh food, and we will bring an international flair to the neighborhood."
Kaur is currently living in Detroit, but considers Kalamazoo home and is moving back to the area in December. She first moved here with her family from Punjab, India, when she was a teenager. Her father, Balwinder Singh, launched Cumin Indian Cuisine in Kalamazoo two years ago. He is a serial restauranteur and food-based entrepreneur with a track record of success, which strongly influenced the young Kaur. At the age of 30, she's realizing a dream she thought might take a lifetime to achieve.

"I thought, maybe I'll open a restaurant when I retire," Reggie said. "Then I thought, 'why wait?' I learned a lot about running a restaurant from my father and from working in his businesses. This is something I have always wanted to do."

Kaur and Tien, who met through friends while both were in medical school, scouted Kalamazoo locations for their restaurant for three years. An offer on another property fell through shortly before Kaur learned about the Fare Games contest.

"My father saw the announcement for the competition and told me about it," Kaur shared. "I was sure the price of the graduated rent was an error. And then, to have all of the additional support in addition to the building, it seemed too good to be true."

A graduated three-year lease and final renovations to the property are just part of the prize package The award also includes an option for pro-bono support like legal counsel from Warner, Norcross & Judd, interior design by SKP Design, mentoring, and other goods and services to help launch and grow the restaurant. The contest is part of Edison Neighborhood's ongoing revitalization efforts.

Land Bank Director Kelly Clarke said selecting the winner was harder than expected. "We received several strong business plans. We narrowed the selection down to three unique food business concepts. A committee that included members of the neighborhood made the final selection."

Pho on the Block will serve as an anchor to the neighborhood's growing business district. The location is just a few blocks from the expanded Kalamazoo Farmers Market on Bank Street, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College's Bronson Healthy Living Campus.

The restaurant will specialize in Pho, a kind of noodle soup and a popular street food in Vietnam. It is one of the hottest food trends in the restaurant business today. Pho on the Block is expected to draw clientele from the neighborhood and the surrounding region, making it a destination restaurant.

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