New restaurant chain uses culture to grow

The falling oil prices have hurt Houston’s employment rate. However, The Greater Houston Partnership reported that other industries have added local jobs since the end of 2014. The most impactful industry has been the hotel, restaurant and bar businesses, to which the city added more than 32,000 jobs in the last 18 months.

Out of over 10,000 restaurants, Peli Peli is the only South African restaurant and has received accolades for its South African flavors, incorporating Dutch, English, Portuguese and Asian influences. The atmospheric architecture with its illuminated sky is notably unique and daring. Currently, there are two Peli Peli restaurants in Houston and a new, fast casual concept called Peli Peli Kitchen will open in the fall. Additional locations in Katy and Austin, Texas are scheduled to open in 2017.

Each owner of the leadership team brings diverse experiences – the primary reason for its continued success. Their core values, cohesive personalities and focus on creating the right company culture and philanthropic efforts in the community have been strategic factors in the brand’s growth. Paul Friedman is an executive chef and formerly owned and managed restaurants in South Africa and Germany. Michael Tran operated a successful restaurant technology firm and Thomas Nguyen is a former litigation attorney who left his career to pursue his passion for business and marketing.

Behind their many successes are stories that have shaped their culture. When Saigon fell to the communist regime of North Vietnam and the U.S. began to withdraw its troops, Nguyen’s parents barely escaped. A sponsor in Fort Smith, Arkansas named Mary Ellen Dixon took them in, taught them English and helped them get situated in their new country.

A total stranger took a chance and opened her arms to help his parents, something that Nguyen has always remembered.

Peli Peli believes in paying it forward. The restaurant’s commitment to helping others in the same way Dixon helped Nguyen’s parents has shaped Peli Peli’s outreach programs. This includes organizing prom night for the MD Anderson Cancer Center patients, closing the restaurant for one night so over 150 Star of Hope clients could be served a complimentary meal and creating a culinary carnival for the Sunshine Kids Foundation.

Everything that Peli Peli does furthers its culture and the philosophy of “Kaizen” which means “continuous improvement”.

Words of wisdom to pass along to other entrepreneurs:

  • Change the mentality that you have to be ready for something before you do it.
  • Being an entrepreneur is like running a marathon. It will not come fast or easy.
  • Never forget the sacrifices others have made for you. Pay it forward.

Linda Toyota is president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce in Houston.