​Behind the deal: How a Vietnamese restaurant took over the old Foreign Correspondents space

HOUSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

It took maybe three weeks for a turnkey restaurant space in the Heights to find a new tenant. The coveted spot, at 4721 N. Main St., was recently leased to Hughie's Tavern & Vietnamese Grille, a Vietnamese concept with its only other location northwest of downtown Houston. The space previously housed the former Treadsack Restaurant Group concept Foreign Correspondents before it shuttered in late December. Treadsack is not involved with the Hughie's concept.

Austen Baldridge of NewQuest represented Hughie's, and Zach Wolf of Braun Enterprises represented the landlord in the lease. The lease was described as "long-term," but terms were not disclosed, according to a release.

The Houston Business Journal spoke with Hughie's co-owner Phillip Pham, who works in his family's restaurant, about how the restaurant landed inside the space.

How did your family arrive in Houston? 
My family farmed in Vietnam until around 1985 before we left for America. They sold their land, bought a boat and snuck out in the middle of the night. We left for Malaysia, but we were robbed by pirates. We came to America with literally our shirts on our backs. I was 2 years old when we left.

How did your family end up in the restaurant business? 
Hughie’s was created out of desperation — our family needed money. My aunt, Irene, had worked in the Houston restaurant and real estate business. She hoped the restaurant would work because we’re self funded through our family. This was part of her retirement plan. We opened our first location in 2014 in a former knockoff Dairy Queen that was called Queen Burger in the Lazybrook/Timbergrove area.

What was it like to open? 
We had no idea what we were doing, but we worked hard. Our business plan was simple: Treat our guests like friends and family. The neighborhood needed a good food, good craft beer restaurant, and we filled that niche. We’re nobody big. We’re just a family trying to make a living.

What was it like to put together this deal? 
I’ve been having sleepless nights this whole month. I didn’t want to hurt our family’s money.

How’d you hear about the space? 
It was all over social media, but I’d heard about some rumors before it went public. We’d been trying to look for a second location, but it had to be turnkey because we don’t have a ton of capital. We’ve been looking for a second location with Austen (Baldridge) when Foreign Correspondents became available. Austen and Zach Wolf are friends and both are regulars of Hughie’s.

What’s the space like? Perfect. It’s only a year old and everything’s up to date.

There was some competition for the space. How’d you get the lease?
The property’s owner, Braun Enterprise, believed in our concept and business plan.

How would you describe the restaurant? 
It’s traditional Vietnamese and comfort American food restaurant. Our shaking beef kale salad is one of our best sellers.

Foreign Correspondents struggled in part because there wasn’t an audience for high-end Thai food in that neighborhood. Why do you think your affordable Vietnamese concept will be successful there? 
In the past 10 years, Vietnamese food has taken off. The flavor profile pairs well with craft beer. We don’t have chefs — we have aunts and uncles. They have great recipes that they’ve brought from Vietnam, and we picked the best.

Are you looking to expand further? 
Yes, of course.

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