Peli Peli, a South African restaurant in Vintage Park, is taking over the former Gigi's Asian Bistro space in The Galleria. Over its five year history, the restaurant has become one of the most popular destinations in Northwest Houston, consistently winning online polls for its romantic atmosphere and inventive cuisine.
"We’ve been trying to get inside the Loop for almost two years," general manager and co-owner Thomas Nguyen tells CultureMap. "The problem we’ve had is no one knows who we are. I don’t blame them. We’re out in the suburbs."
Nguyen, chef/owner Paul Friedman and partner Michael Tran have come close on spaces on Washington Ave and at Gateway Memorial City, but they couldn't strike a deal. "I’m used to hearing that I’m a finalist for a spot, and we haven’t been the victor until today," Nguyen says.
Diners will have the experience of feeling as though they're sitting in the tree during their meal.
Thankfully, a real estate agent convinced a Simon Mall executive to try Peli Peli for lunch. "He loved it. He thought that was the fresh energy that the Galleria needed, and I’m so thankful for that," Nguyen says.
Eager to get a jump on the remodeling project, the restaurant retained an architect before finalizing the lease. If the deal had fallen through, "We would have been out 10 or 15 grand. We just felt like it was a risk we had to take," Nguyen explains, but the head start puts them on track to be open for the busy Christmas shopping season, pending the usual caveats about permitting and construction delays.
The plan calls for two of the Vintage Park location's signature Acacia trees — one in the dining room and one in the bar. Diners will have the experience of feeling as though they're sitting in the tree during their meal.
In terms of the food, Nguyen says Friedman knows he needs to up the "wow factor" to impress The Galleria crowd. "We’re going to come out with more items that are unique and specific to South Africa. We’re going to go through a lot of test tasting to see what we can do," Nguyen says. "I really want to surprise people."
Friedman will spend 90-percent of his time at the new location, but Vintage Park regulars shouldn't worry about the quality dipping in his absence. Nguyen says he and Friedman have been monitoring how the chefs perform without Friedman on the line for the last two years. "We’re confident they’ll be able to maintain the standards we’re used to, and Paul will oversee the team at The Galleria," Nguyen says.
Nguyen compares going from Vintage Park to The Galleria to a college football player going to the NFL. "If I’m really going to be a restaurateur, I need to be with the best of the best. I want to know if our food is able to compete with the best that Houston has to offer," he says.
"We have a lot of work to do in the next six months. It’ll be interesting to see what happens."