On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," CutlureMap's weekly restaurant podcast, Peli Peli co-founder Thomas Nguyen joins food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the South African restaurant's growth from a humble start in Vintage Park to three locations across the Houston area.
Nguyen begins the conversation by explaining that he decided to get into the restaurant industry after realizing he wasn't happy working as a lawyer.
The conversation continues with Nguyen explaining how Peli Peli developed its super-friendly service and a corporate culture that's allowed employees who started as servers to rise as high as general manager.
Peli Peli continues to expand with a new location in Austin and plans to open in Dallas.
Finally, Sandler and Nguyen share a conversation they had a couple years ago during which Sandler expressed his opinion that Peli Peli isn't a cool restaurant. Nguyen explains hearing that initially hurt his feelings, but he found it freeing.
"That's been almost a defining point for us, and I equate it to a nerd in high school, which I was, when someone finally tells you, 'Thomas, you're never going to be one of the cool kids," Nguyen says. "At that point, we were always trying to get validation . . . I spent a lot of time trying to, I guess, fit in. For us, at that point, we said, 'we're never going to be cool.' It just allowed us to be us."
Prior to Nguyen joining the show, L'Olivier owner Mary Clarkson and Sandler discuss the news of the week. Clarkson offers her thoughts on what chef Manuel Pucha should consider as he prepares to open Maison Pucha Bistro in the Heights. The duo also discuss Mala Sichuan Bistro's plans to add locations in Katy and Sugar Land as well as Hugo Ortega's pop-up in San Francisco with celebrity chef Michael Mina.
In the restaurants of the week segment, they discuss their champagne-fueled first visit to A'Bouzy.