christine ha's spring branch plans
Houston’s Masterchef champion and husband plan new gourmet sandwich shop in Spring Branch
Houston’s Masterchef champion and her business partner/husband have big plans for Spring Branch. Not only are chef Christine Ha and her husband John Suh preparing to open a bigger, better version of The Blind Goat, their James Beard Award-nominated Vietnamese gastropub; the couple are also at work on a new concept that will also open at the Spring Branch Village shopping center.
That new concept will be called Stuffed Belly. Schedule to open in March, the new restaurant will serve modern gourmet sandwiches from a drive-thru restaurant on the property. It will be the couple’s third restaurant, joining The Blind Goat and Xin Chao, where Ha and co-chef Tony Nguyen earned 2022 James Beard Award finalist nominations in the Best Chef: Texas category.
Ha tells CultureMap that she and Suh both appreciate a well-crafted sandwich and have aspired to open a sandwich concept for some time. When she receives an injection to help treat her neuromyelitis optica (NMO), the autoimmune disease that caused her blindness, she always craves a sandwich after. While both of Ha’s current projects are Vietnamese (The Blind Goat and Xin Chao), Stuffed Belly will not be a banh mi shop.
“We’re not doing traditional Vietnamese banh mi,” Ha says. “We’re taking comfort classics that we’ve eaten as children whether it’s grilled cheese, tuna salad, simple burgers, or fried chicken sandwiches. We’re elevating it and pushing its boundaries and taking it to the next level.”
Behold the logo for Stuffed Belly, coming soon to Spring Branch.Courtesy of Letterset Design
Before they open Stuffed Belly, they’ll move The Blind Goat from its original home in downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall to its new Spring Branch location. Expect the current location to close in November to facilitate moving equipment and staff training at the new location. Ha earned a 2020 James Beard Award semifinalist nomination in the Best New Restaurant category for The Blind Goat.
“The Blind Goat definitely outgrew that space,” Ha says about the current location. “There’s so many things I want to do with the menu that I can’t in that limited space. We’ll be able to expand our menu and take on catering gigs.”
To help prepare for the opening, the couple have made some key hires. Xin Chao general manager Blake Lewis will fill that same role at The Blind Goat. Bar manager Alex Coon brings experience from Izakaya and as a consultant for Heights Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit. To assist with getting the restaurant up and running, the couple have hired former UB Preserv chef Nick Wong as a consultant. He'll provide logistical expertise and assist with training.
“I still have a lot to learn about running a restaurant,” Ha says. “I’m still learning how to maximize and streamline running a kitchen. The opportunity is to learn from Nick about what it’s like to set up a kitchen, train cooks, and everything else.”
“He has a lot of knowledge and experience,” Suh adds. “I think we can do some really creative stuff together.”
Although Ha didn’t win the Beard Award, she and Suh both say they enjoyed attending the awards ceremony in Chicago. It provided them with some networking opportunities and motivated them to push even hard to win the prize.
“It was very flattering, the weekend in Chicago,” Ha says. “Twenty years ago, losing my vision, I had to leave my job. I could not imagine I’d be at this place. I’m very lucky. I’m very fortunate.”