Running a successful business means you’ve got to be a magician.

I’m not kidding. You know the saying ‘wearing many different hats’ or ‘be a jack of all trades’? It’s like that but it’s not enough to just have general knowledge about each role…

When you own restaurants you’re wearing all of the hats – from the dishwasher’s cap to the construction helmet to the investor’s summer boat fedora. You’ve got to be good enough at everything to not only survive but to thrive… and it’s intense.

Because when you run a successful chain of restaurants it looks easy from the outside.  But the reality is that you’re not just someone who opens a shop, makes good food, counts wads of cash, and says goodbye as you leave your team to shut down and clean up.

No way!

If that were the case… 60% of restaurants wouldn’t close down in their first year and 80% wouldn’t call it quits in under 5 years.

Here’s the truth – when you’re playing and winning the restaurant game… you’re an executive chef. You’re a line cook. You’re an accountant. You’re a janitor. You’re a therapist. You’re a surrogate parent. You’re a customer service rock star. You’re an interior designer.

And that’s just the beginning. You also have to:

  • Understand buildings, architecture, and designs when you’re scouting and developing new locations
  • Negotiate like Mark Cuban or Daymond John on Shark Tank
  • Understand banking, loans, funding, and investors
  • Have a STRONG financial game

And if it weren’t for some great people in my life who shared their expertise and helped me learn about their area of expertise… there’s no way Roostar would be what it is today.

Today I want to take a minute to show you just how I learned to navigate all these roles… I want to introduce my MVP team…

These men have forever changed the course of my career. They’ve believed in me, inspired me, mentored me, and pushed me to be better than I thought was possible.

I am forever grateful that they’re in my life.

I want to thank…

Palmer Schooley. Because he showed me how to preserve creative design by balancing creative freedom. He taught me to work with the city for permitting, with engineers for drawings, how to keep contractors accountable for their work, and how to negotiate with builders. Palmer showed me how to look out for the details within a space and how to think outside the box when it comes to architecture – like allowing natural lights to come through in various section of the building. His philosophy is that every seat in the restaurant should make the guest feel special and it changed the way we think about design at Roostar.

Mike Latimer taught me how to effectively negotiate a lease contract and how to understand real estate. (It’s all about long-term.) He taught me the importance of being clear and transparent in negotiating real estate contracts… a lesson that allowed me to expand from 1 to 2 stores in a quick time frame while Roostar was still maturing.  

John Song is my OG banker. He taught me how to take long-term approach on all financial deals and showed me how every single year’s tax return matters for the projects ahead. Because of John, I know how to keep cash reserves and why I have to follow plans. John showed me how the bank’s processes work which helped me build powerful relationship with the bank. Thanks to him I understand what banks look for and why they need it so I keep a clean financial game to make room for more growth and expansion on the horizon. This man pulled strings for me, guided me, and funded Roostar 2 when it didn’t seem possible.

Tri Nguyen is my dad. His entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off on me, which he wasn’t totally excited about at first. But my dad is someone who knows how to connect dots and to create something from nothing so how could I not be inspired by him? He’s great with tools and taught me how to build things with my hands… and introduced me the indescribable feeling that comes when you create something. He taught me to do my best, no matter what job title I have.

He’s offensive when it comes to making money. My dad never stops looking for and making deals. He’s defensive when it comes to saving money. I learned to look for value, to be frugal, and to be reasonable when spending money from watching him.

My dad showed me how to build relationships with the people who have leverage on me and how to control and build relationships with the business staff that I oversee.

A visionary, my dad taught me how to think long term and how to see and then build a future that does not yet exist…

And that’s the real power of your MVP team. You can’t do it all on your own and succeed.

There’s no way for someone starting out to understand the intricacies of so many different industries and roles.

You need someone to show you how to identify a great building and create a powerful design. You need someone who’s negotiated killer real estate deals to show you the ropes and help you understand what took them decades to perfect in a really, really short time. You need someone to help you keep your finances strong so that you have everything in order when you find an opportunity to pursue. You need someone to show you how to navigate confusing bank procedures that take people years to comprehend so that you can get your loan and your investors can feel good about what you’re going to build.

Success looks so simple, so easy, and so fun on the surface.

But success is an iceberg… there’s a lot going on that no one will ever see.

And today, I wanted to show the world the power behind my success. Because I’m so thankful for these men.

If you know someone who’s starting up and struggling, will you take just one minute to share this with them? It might help them more than you think.

OR if this made you think about someone who’s helped you find success why don’t you forward it to them with a quick thank you note? You know they’ll appreciate it.

Just like I appreciate every customer who chooses to come into Roostar and spend their time, money, and appetite with us, I want to thank you for reading about my experience today.




PS — Go make the world a better place..


The Structure

I just want to give a quick shout-out late this evening to my two favorite girls, Linda, and her sister Caroline. They have been holding things together for us since the very beginning. They are the foundations this business is built on, they are the structure of the operation, who enable me to take the time to dream and envision the future.

Everyone in our Roostar team is eternally grateful for the time, energy and sheer hard work they put into training our team members, getting to know our guests and taking our restaurant to where we are today and where we want to be in the days and years ahead.

I will never forget how we started, never forget your support and never forget your endless belief in me and what we have achieved. From the 6am starts to the 1am finishes, I will never forget.

I promise I will do everything in my power to be there for you throughout all the crazy days and wild nights, past, present and future. I will always be here for you, with or without Roostar.

Caroline and Linda, we love you!

Slow Dough Bread Co.

Here at Roostar one of the best things to happen this year was finally having the opportunity to meet up and work with Heath Wendell and Michael Pellegrino from Slow Dough Bread Co..

Years of searching for the minds behind the phenomenal burger buns of Buff Burger and Bernie’s Burger Bus paid off by bringing me to Slow Dough’s booth at the annual Texas Restaurant Association show this year.

I was ecstatic to see them there and my fiancée Linda and I introduced ourselves, had a chat and wound up with an invite to the Slow Dough premises the following week.

The trip to the bakery was quite an experience in itself as we found ourselves at a huge 35,000sq.ft building with no signage! A quick call to Michael confirmed we were at the right place and upon entering were greeted by Michael and taken to another room to meet Heath where we sat around a 6ft long baker’s table doubling as a conference table.

The Story.

Michael Pellegrino was the chef-mastermind behind Max’s Wine Dive run by Houston-based Lasco Enterprises for eight years and won many awards in local events and competitions. He has since taken up a new position as Director of Culinary Relations with the Slow Dough Bread Co.

Heath Wendell is a fifth-generation baker steeped in the traditions of his German-immigrant Chicago-based family who lives and breathes bread making. He and his partner, Marlo Evans, started a bakery with just the two of them working for themselves taking samples door to door around local eateries.

Today this same company now employs 68 staff and has accounts with 325 restaurants in Houston and almost two dozen in Austin. They have also secured huge accounts with Whole Foods Market, Perry’s Steak House, Ben E. Keith and Carrabba’s among others.

So why do they still have a passion for catering to chef-driven, local restaurants and Mom and Pop places such as Buff Burger, Local Foods, Roostar and so on?

It’s all about the passion. Sure, the big national chains will always have an economic advantage, but Slow Dough Bread Co. is driven by the desire to be the best, a pride, not just in a trade, but in craftsmanship and being an artisan not just a baker. It’s in their DNA. It’s artistry, love for the product and a relentless drive to keep improving.

Heath shares a memory with me about meetings with the corporate players in the business where, invariably, price took priority over product, but when he meets with local operators the product takes pride of place and only then would price be discussed. There’s a difference. Priority is given to producing the best possible products, a matter of principle and a philosophy shared by Roostar.

We at Roostar worked incredibly closely with Michael and Heath over the weeks and months to create a product which we believe can win over our guests. The result is a bread of the purest golden-brown color with a deliciously crispy crust, cream-colored center, satisfyingly complex aroma and a delightfully fleshy texture when chewed. The requisite slash across the top entices out the air that is locked in the light and fluffy interior. When this amazing creation is torn open you are immediately aware of the subtle yet complex aromas rising up to greet you. One taste and you’re hooked on the sumptuous texture and perfect balance of flavors.

We all know that the longer a dough takes to rise (hence the name Slow Dough) and the less artificial ingredients used the better and tastier it will be. For this reason Slow Dough Bread Co. uses no artificial ingredients and the result of this is a dining room filled with satisfied, happy guests. Even the most discerning palette can’t fail to be won over by this peerless product.

I am profoundly grateful to have been given the opportunity to work alongside Heath, Michael, Thomas, Sasha, Renee and everyone at Slow Dough. All of us at Roostar sincerely appreciate the chance we have been given to learn so much about bread making and have a deep respect for the craftsmanship behind these superb products.

We look forward to continued growth and a long and fruitful relationship with Slow Dough.


Architecture & Timeless Design

We have just signed the lease on our second location!

These past few months have been a whirlwind of meetings with brokers, property managers, landlords and others. Now, after an exhausting, and exhaustive search, I’m delighted to announce that our second store will be opening just down the street from Houston’s famed Williams Tower.

I’ve been astonished to see the range of work that our architects have produced while helping us to realize our ideas. My desire to understand what makes great architectural design took me to the premises of many companies throughout Houston and only served to reinforce my belief that great restaurant design should be ‘timeless.’ The restaurant you dine at 10 years after your first visit should be just as beguiling and enticing as the first day you set foot inside.

A restaurant’s design should blend a variety of materials ranging from concrete and metal to steel and wood, fixtures and fittings to carpeting; merged correctly this disparate group of elements should create exactly the right balance of hard and soft materials.

Colors should be harmonized as well and will help to instill the ambiance you wish to create. Lighting, too, can be very helpful in this respect and has the ability to establish an upbeat, relaxing or intimate atmosphere throughout the restaurant.

Even the seating should be unique and make your guests feels welcome and special no matter where they decide to sit. A guest should truly feel as if they’ve been transported to another time and place, a distant land where they are king or queen.

Restaurants should exude an aura that makes all your guests feel welcome. The layout shouldn’t be an obstacle course for guests to maneuver around but should, instead, guide patrons towards finding their choice of seating, understand where to place their order and where to pick up their order.

A restaurant designed with a simple, elegant, yet easy to understand layout benefits guests immensely and can still communicate a certain mood through the appropriate mix of materials, lighting and color. To me, a great restaurant is a place where customers feel relaxed, valued and comfortable.

Finding a good architect is a journey all its own. There are a lot of wonderful people who become architects but you must hire a person who can show results that coincide with your wishes. To my way of thinking it seems that being a good architect requires you to be engineer, scientist and artist all rolled into one. Engineer to understand the math behind creating a solid structure, scientist to be able to think logically and, finally, the artist is required to unite math and science in a package that is aesthetically appealing and a treat for all the senses.

Good architects conceive designs that thrill your senses, and a great architectural design can evoke a sense of wonder that, perhaps, goes beyond the time and space in which it was created.


Attention is the Oxygen

As businesses have moved onto the web, they’ve found that advertising isn’t just about promotions and ad banners. At Roostar, we’ve found that the best way to advertise online is by keeping our content fresh and reaching out through social media. So, to start, we began by covering the basics. We wanted to make sure people knew who we were, what we served, how to make contact with us, and where we were located. The website has also been an easy way to keep our customers updated about changes we have made.

However, we wanted to go beyond just the basics of maintaining a website. We wanted our customers to know our story and the history behind our name. There’s a rich history behind the food we serve and how we came to be in Houston, and the website has been a great way of communicating those tales. Essentially, we wanted our site to be a place where we could connect with customers and communicate our values.

Our website has been an easy way of reaching out to guests and visitors, not only to let people know about the business side of the restaurant, but also to let them know how we connect with our community. Keeping an online presence has made it easier for us to tell the story behind the food. It’s also been a great way of letting people know how we try and give back to our guests.

This has all been made easier through the rise of social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. We try to make sure we reply to every comment we get. When people reach out to us, we want them to see that they’re connecting with real people and not robots. We take the time to personally communicate with everyone that reaches out to us. We strongly believe that by interacting with our guests and building relationships, we make Roostar a place where guests feel welcome.

Building our website has meant constant updates to keep our content fresh, because content is king. However, we’ve also made it a hub from which we can communicate with our guests and the surrounding community. By making it a place where visitors can learn about the food, as well as the stories behind the food, we believe that our website goes beyond just the basics of business. Through strong social outreach and attention paid to every guest who stops by, we believe we have created a home for our customers on the internet.

The Dream Pack

Our restaurant succeeded thanks to the wonderful community we are surrounded by and the regulars who have supported us from the day our doors opened. Personally, I can also say that my mentors played an influential role in educating me and teaching me the qualities that any good owner should have. However, I cannot say thanks without including the group of people who stand by me day after day: my colleagues.

My colleagues give me a joy that is difficult to put into words, and it is through their hard work that we have made our vision into a reality.  Their dedication is visible in the long hours they put into their jobs, and it is that level of effort that has made our company a success. Even through all of the physical and emotional difficulties that are part of launching a restaurant, I have felt blessed to stand side by side with a team of individuals who rose to the challenge.

While our management takes the lead in coaching the rest of the staff, it is always our wish that everyone working for us meets their personal, financial and academic needs. With that said, this year we are introducing what we like to call the Dream Pack.

With the Dream Pack, we conducted an anonymous survey amongst our colleagues to determine what they would like as some form of reward for their hard work. Of course, we couldn’t promise the moon, so there were a few conditions on what types of rewards could be chosen. The value of any reward would have to be under a certain amount. This was also part of a fun contest within the restaurant, so only one person could win.

On a personal note, I believe everyone in the company has the potential to do great things. Our plan is to hold the contest once a year as a way of adding some fun to the daily life of the restaurant as well as give the staff extra incentives to work toward. It is my hope that the reward will help our colleagues continue growing professionally, personally and academically.

Over the years, we have taken on amazing individuals that form the hardest working staff in Houston. Some have moved on to new careers, but we still appreciate the time and effort they invested in making the restaurant a success with our guests. Moving forward, we wish these former staff members all the best, and hope they will continue to succeed in life.

We have had three great years, but this next year looks like it will be the best yet. As we continue growing, I would like to say thank you to all of my current and former colleagues for helping make this company a success. It could not have been done without their time and effort. I can only imagine the amazing things we will achieve together in 2016.

Revention POS

Revention is a Houston based Point of Sale company that goes beyond just being a business. It is a partner, friend, and instructor. Although I’m not much of a salesman, I believe that any sales force has to believe in its product in order to deliver a snappy, attractive pitch. My own experience from the moment Revention presented their sales presentation was incredible. Their sales agents took a lot of pride in their product and clearly demonstrated the Revention advantage.

Steve Jobs had a slogan for his company: “Think Different.” Apple honors people that produce amazing results and shake up the status quo. In doing so, they create a brand that generates a loyal following that will purchase almost any of the company’s products. Revention does something very similar. From top to bottom, everyone in the organization shows the drive and creativity of a person that enjoys what they do.

Working with Revention taught me about parts of the restaurant business that went beyond the day-to-day operations. I learned about marketing and how critical it is for businesses to engage each and every guest as a way of encouraging growth. Revention aggressively markets its own capabilities through the pride they take in their services.

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to work with them enhancing everything from our online ordering system to our mobile apps, label printers, and point of sale system. It’s an amazing experience to work hand-in-hand with them to set all this up. Watching this new service roll out and exceed the expectations of our guests is a wining situation for everybody involved

2016 New Menu

Our updated 2016 menu is now complete, and just like the Roostar symbol, it’s been given an overhaul. The fonts have a little more personality, but keep the simplicity that customers need for easy reading. Making the menu easier to look at was a big focus, and simple changes, such as adjustments to the color brightness, have made browsing the menu easier than ever.

Also, in keeping with our appeal to a diverse city, we’ve included pictures to help our clientele understand their choices. The effect is especially noticeable for those surfing our website on their phones or tablets. Along with a few, more descriptive name changes and a slightly expanded selection that includes vegetarian, vegan, and seafood options, the Roostar menu is ready to delight the tastes of diners from throughout Houston.


Roostar Logo


Our logo was hand drafted by a graffiti artist out of Bulgaria by the name of Pavel, and later refined by a highly talented designer from Pennsylvania named Scott. Through them, I learned more about the work and attention that goes into graphic design than I could ever have imagined. The finished logo is simple, yet confident, fun, and happy, just like every member of our organization.

Vietnam was heavily influenced by the French, and so the Roostar logo, in many ways, symbolizes France. In fact, the rooster is the unofficial national symbol of France. However, the logo also uses the Star of Texas to show our love for the state. It represents the pride, courage, and independent spirit that defined the original settlers of Texas. It’s a spirit that we value here at Roostar.

Finally, the rooster of our logo is drawn in flame-like strokes and colored with burning reds, symbolizing the passion and energy that we put into each of our dishes. In creating the Roostar logo, we didn’t want only to appeal to the masses. We also wanted to capture elements of Vietnam, France, and Texas. Not matter how old you are or what your background is, everyone can identify with the fusion of cultures that happens in America, and especially in a city as diverse as Houston.


The Poblano Part

It’s been quite a long journey just to get here. After years of going through different artists, designs for the restaurant, and even name changes, Roostar is a reality. Although we originally launched as Vietnam Poblano, our dream of serving a fusion of Vietnamese and Mexican food never materialized.

A big reason for this is that we wanted to keep the menu small. A smaller menu is easier for customers to choose from, and that a reduced menu makes it easier to prepare excellent food with greater precision. At Roostar, we don’t want to just make decent food. Instead, our menu size helps our staff create only the very best in Vietnamese dishes in a timely manner.