University of Houston alumnus Minh Nguyen found resourceful ways to keep business alive and staff employed during the hardest months
Houston, TX–After a year of working in corporate America and not feeling fulfilled, University of Houston alumnus Minh Nguyen thought he’d switch gears and buy a popular Vietnamese restaurant that was up for sale.
Not having a background in the restaurant industry did not stop him. And, neither did the fact that the restaurant owners had no financial statements for him to review.
“I was tired of corporate America,” said the former software consultant. “I always had an appreciation for small businesses, how they operated and what they provided to the community. I knew the restaurant was successful at one point, and I didn’t want to see it fail. I wanted to see it come back to life.”
It’s been about 14 years since Nguyen purchased Café TH, and his professional life still brings him joy. He expanded the restaurant to a more modern spin on Vietnamese cuisine.
Despite setbacks caused by the pandemic, he’s found creative ways to keep his business alive. A PPP Loan, a Harris County grant, savings and support from his spouse also helped. He has five staff members at Cafe TH who he didn’t have to lay off and continued to pay for about 35 hours weekly.
“I still paid my staff a full-time wage along with the tips they earned while working,” he said. “That is something I feel like I am blessed with because a lot of people are not in those same situations. A lot of people have different hardships.”
His number one priority throughout the pandemic has been to keep his team and customers safe.
In March 2020, he closed the dining room inside the restaurant. He offered curbside and take out only. He lost many of his regulars during this time because they stopped coming to downtown Houston to work. Sales dipped as low as 33 percent from the previous year, and he wasn’t making a profit.
“I’ve been playing it very cautiously,” he said. “Safety is my number one priority, and I talk about it all the time with my staff. I’ve tried to come up with different creative ways for people to order our products.”
He’s communicating with customers about different ways to get their food. He has closed the restaurant’s dining room on Friday and Saturday nights. In exchange, he offers pre-order dinners that he could deliver to customers.
“They wanted to support me,” he said. “Also, it alleviates them from having to leave the house, gives them a break from cleaning and cooking … I had people who wanted me to automatically deliver their dinners on Wednesday or Fridays. It’s almost like a win-win.”
He closes at 3 p.m. and doesn’t mind making deliveries at night since he was used to not getting home until 10 p.m. He also encourages customers to try his new combo meals because it gives them a taste of everything. Having more pictures on the menu gives customers a tantalizing visual of their creative dishes.
About Café TH: Café TH refers to Thiem Hung, a preexisting restaurant that was built in the early 1980s. The restaurant is in East Downtown, which borders Chinatown in Houston. With the incoming immigrants after the Vietnam War, Houston was one of the major hubs that housed many Vietnamese refugees/immigrants. The families moving to Houston wanted something familiar, so they created a Vietnamese community.