Student-Run Mill City Consulting Offers Marketing Tips and More to FORK Included

Six men and a woman pose for a group photo inside a restaurant. Image by Ed Brennen
Mill City Consulting students are working with FORK Included owner Vidon Pich, left, this semester to help market his restaurant, which recently reopened on University Avenue near North Campus.

By Ed Brennen

An orange flag with the silhouette of a fork is the only signage you see outside of FORK Included, an Asian fusion restaurant located on University Avenue, on the edge of North Campus.

That’s because when Vidon Pich and his wife, Chinda, started FORK three years ago, it was intended to be a ghost kitchen — an establishment that only offers takeout and catering orders.

As UML students learned about FORK through word of mouth, they started texting Pich their orders for bulgogi bowls, pad thai and drunken noodles. Before long, Pich says, 80% of his business was coming from UML students. 

So, with the help of some Manning School of Business students and a $60,000 economic resilience grant from the city of Lowell, Pich decided to relaunch FORK Included as a traditional sit-down restaurant.
Dozens of paper cranes hang from a ceiling. There is a UMass Lowell flag hanging on the wall in the background. Image by Ed Brennen
Paper cranes are suspended in front of a UMass Lowell flag in the back hallway of the restaurant.

“We want to create that vibe where, when students walk in, they feel like they’re home,” Pich said after cutting the ribbon at the restaurant’s recent grand reopening ceremony, where guests noshed on free food and admired the remodeled space’s bold colors and canopy of pink silk flowers in the window.

Among those in attendance were members of Mill City Consulting, a student-run venture that assists local businesses. It’s part of Internship in Entrepreneurship, a three-credit course that gives students hands-on experience with evaluating a small business’s goals and challenges and with developing a strategy to improve the business’s bottom line.

This spring, a half-dozen Mill City Consulting students are helping Pich with social media marketing, website improvements and general operations management. They started by spreading the word about the reopening, and they will continue to meet with Pich during the semester to assess his business needs.
A group of people participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony outside a restaurant. Image by Ed Brennen
Mill City Consulting students were on hand as FORK Included owner Vidon Pich cut the ribbon on his remodeled restaurant.

“Students love this place,” said senior business major Avijay Ghosh, who has been coming to FORK for the fried rice and chicken once a week for the past two years. 

“I like making an impact in the community with what I’m learning in school,” said Ghosh, an accounting and management information systems student from Washington, D.C. “I want to see all the local businesses do better.”

Standing in the restaurant’s back hallway, MBA student Chioke Onwuogo admired the UMass Lowell flag hanging on the wall, surrounded by more than a hundred paper cranes — all folded by Pich family members.

“It feels homey here, like a place where you can relax while doing homework and grabbing a bite to eat,” said Onwuogo, who completed his undergraduate business degree in December and is taking Internship in Entrepreneurship along with his online MBA courses this semester.
A young man in a blue winter coat talks to a man in a suit in a restaurant. Image by Ed Brennen
Senior business major Anirban Dasgupta, right, chats with Lowell City Council Vice Chair Paul Ratha Yem at the reopening ceremony. Dasgupta is participating in Mill City Consulting for the third semester - this time as an advisor.

“This course lets you experience one-on-one business relationships, which is helpful if you want to be your own entrepreneur someday,” said Onwuogo, a Peabody, Massachusetts, native who starts work this month as a market intelligence representative at Similarweb, a data software company.

Another team member, junior finance and MIS student Daniel Oluwasuyi of Lynn, Massachusetts, said he is taking the course to “improve my problem-solving and analytical skills, while giving back to the community at the same time.”

Other students in the course, which is taught by adjunct faculty member Daniele Parravano '17, '18, are working with The Perfect Cup Cafe, a coffee shop that recently opened in Dracut, Massachusetts.
A young man sitting with friends at a restaurant table looks at a framed certificate that a man is showing him. Image by Ed Brennen
Mill City Consulting's Avijay Ghosh looks at a framed certificate that city officials presented to FORK Included owner Vidon Pich.

“I love when people take a big step to start something of their own. It’s really cool to help them,” said junior computer science major Sonakshi Gupta, a Dracut native who is part of the Perfect Cup consulting team.

Taking the Internship in Entrepreneurship course, Gupta said, allows her to explore an interest outside of her computer science major.

“I enjoy working with like-minded people who have the same ambitions as me, and feeling like part of the community,” she said during the FORK Included re-opening, which was attended by Lowell City Council Vice Chair Paul Ratha Yem and state Rep. Vanna Howard.
A photo of a big wooden spice rack full of jars that is hanging from an orange wall in a restaurant. Image by Ed Brennen
A spice rack decorates the serving station at FORK Included, which was closed for nearly two months for renovations.

Pich was born in Cambodia, grew up in Boston and has called Lowell home for the past 20 years. He used the $60,000 grant from the city to upgrade FORK’s kitchen equipment. He and his wife plan to start a nonprofit, donating “at least 200 meals a month” to the community.

He plans to meet weekly this spring with the Mill City Consulting students, and then see their final presentation in class at the end of the semester.

“They’re really good. They have a vision, and I embrace that,” he said in the crowded six-table dining area of his remodeled restaurant.

Phase two of the renovation, he said, is to add a TV on the wall — and a sign outside.