Food vs. Energy: Houston's Real Success Story

Peli Peli Owners Photo

How do you top excellence? One Houston restaurant has already defeated the odds, and grown to be the premiere small business that could! Peli Peli, has exceeded critic’s expectations and has grown to be a brand to reckon with throughout Southeast Texas! In 2005, entrepreneurs Thomas Nguyen and Michael Tran set out to create something unique for the Houston restaurant industry, not by surprise, yet with a big bang! And using help from the U.S. Small Business Administration they were able to do just that!

The two foodie-capitalists were seeking an opportunity to create a restaurant concept that would create flavors no one had ever had before. What they discovered was Chef Paul Friedman whom had moved to Houston in the early eighties and had applied his culinary skills into several different restaurant concepts. What they achieved is what Houston lacked; a unique taste and appreciation for the diverse flavors of South African cuisine. In 2009, the concept was born: to be the concept that would bring both traditional and untraditional South African food to the mainstream.  With support from the SBA and many hours of research, they were able to make the brand expand in 2015.

"Peli Peli" which is translated from: bird's-eye chili pepper peri peri, is a spice that was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th Century on the plains of Southern Africa. It is the secret ingredient behind the South African brand’s success.  The unique blend of spice and complimentary herbs to every dish have taken the local favorite to a new level.

On April 13, 2009, their first location was opened in Vintage Park in North Houston. The décor is nothing like you had seen unless you have experienced a South African safari.  “This is not your average restaurant experience,” said partner-owner, Thomas Nguyen. “We specialize in a menu and atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else in Houston. We are not only unique, but represent a diversity of cultures, both of which contribute to our success.”

The concept is so successful that the restaurantpreneurs successfully launched their second location in prime real estate, the Galleria Mall in Houston, Texas. With assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) program, the trio was able to secure a loan and open in April 2015. “We were always looking for a location that would make our cuisine more accessible to Houston, and expanding to our Galleria location made perfect since.” said Nguyen.

Since then Michael, Thomas and Paul have added their first fast casual concept, Peli Peli Kitchen, as well as a smaller version called Peli Deli in downtown Houston at the Esperson Building.  For the rest of 2017, they will focus on opening their fifth location, a Peli Peli, in Katy, Texas at the LaCenterra Shopping Center and then attempt to expand outside of Houston for the first time in downtown Austin, Texas.  

To pay success forward is a staple in any small business.  “Develop a fan base and take care of your regular customers,” Nguyen added. "Also make sure your staff are taken care of.  Without them, you wouldn't have anything." Peli Peli is also a community advocate and each year enjoys creating experiences such as proms for organizations like MD Anderson Cancer Center and Austin Independent School District.

Peli Peli has grown substantially since 2009 with assistance from an SBA-preferred lender and the 7(a) program. Their success has led them to be the number 2 restaurant during Houston Restaurant Week in 2016 and within the top 10 destinations for Houston according to both TripAdvisor & Yelp. Peli Peli’s success has enabled them to compete on both the Food Network's “Cutthroat Kitchen” and CNBC’s “Restaurant  Startup”.

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Company Name: 
Peli Peli
Houston, TX