The name Steve Chappelear may not immediately register with most Houstonians, but wing lovers around town are well acquainted with the eight Buffalo Wild Wings franchises Chappelear owns. Recently, he signed an agreement to bring Mama Fu's, a fast casual Asian concept, to Houston. Similar to Pei Wei, Mama Fu's offers diners a choice of dishes that incorporate Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai flavors while still maintaining enough familiarity for cautious palates. Chappelear spoke to Eater about why he's decided to bring Mama Fu's to Houston and what Mama Fu's has to offer a city with so many Asian restaurants of all types.
Chappelear says he became interested in Mama Fu's when he was approached by another Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee about becoming involved in the company. After learning about the company, Chappelear decided that Mama Fu's “seemed like a good opportunity for us and a good opportunity in the marketplace.”
Mama Fu's uses its menu to set itself apart from its competitors in the Asian-influenced, fast casual segment. As Chappelear explains, “I've seen other places, like Genghis Grill, where you just pile stuff on a plate and they cook it. It's much more impersonal. [At Mama Fu's], you can make it however you want. I think the environment is fresher [and] more inviting to customers when you walk in the door.” In terms of how it compares to market leader Pei Wei, Chappelear thinks he has an advantage with a “lighter, fresher product” that he hopes “we can capitalize on moving forward.”
Despite Houston's vast array of Asian restaurants of all kinds, Chappelear isn't intimidated. He points out that when people patronize mom and pop restaurants there's the possibility of “[getting] a bunch of gristly pieces and the texture makes you not want to eat it anymore. I don't like that aspect of those [small restaurants] where you don't know what you're getting.”
Chappelear has yet to decide where the first locations will be but hopes to have identified the most important blocks and signed leases by the end of the year. The first Mama Fu's will open approximately a year from now.