A restaurant's financial bottom line is paramount to its success, but for Peli Peli (Galleria) a different line has been drawn: one of compassion, thoughtfulness, and community connection. And impeccable food of course. How are they doing it? By closing the restaurant for a day, reaching out, and bringing in members of the Houston extended family who are facing hardships in health, living circumstances, and other situations. "I wanted to make a statement and get people's attention," explains general manager Thomas Nguyen. "I purposely closed down my restaurant and lost income because I wanted people to see how serious we are about what we are trying to do and about Table Service Day." Nguyen attended a volunteer event last summer in Las Vegas that changed his life, and this experience influenced his decision to embrace charitable relationships at Peli Peli.
Nguyen and partners Chan Do, Michael Tran, & Chef Paul Friedman, and the staff at Peli Peli have already shown a penchant for goodwill and they show no signs of stopping. In January of this year,
the crew shutdown their restaurant Peli Peli hosted a party and dinner at the Sunshine Kids Foundation's facility to provide the children and families affected by cancer with the foundation a lovely evening of dining and South African carnival-themed activities. For Table Service Day on June 15, Peli Peli invited 150 clients of Houston's Star of Hope, which supports families and single women as they gain financial and social independence, for an unforgettable evening. Clients were treated to complimentary makeovers from makeup artists on site at Star of Hope before being whisked away to the restaurant where a red carpet, media backdrop, mocktail hour, and three-course dinner awaited them. Throughout the meal chef Friedman visited each table, laughing and taking photos with his guests while servers shared South African culture and described each dish in detail. It's these personal interactions that make Table Service Day rewarding for all involved. "Everyone thanked us for allowing them to participate and everyone enjoyed being there and being a part of such a special night," says Nguyen. "It's impactful to see those less fortunate smiling and enjoying themselves especially when you know that could easily be you."
Nguyen focused on Star of Hope because of a personal connection he felt to its mission. "I wanted to find a group that I could relate to and a group who I felt the members could use a night out filled with hope and inspiration," he says. "My parents were immigrants from Vietnam and growing up there were several times where we were also very close to being homeless so I felt a connection to the Star of Hope and what they do in Houston. Once I shared this message, my friend and co-worker, Chan Do, felt that the Star of Hope would be perfect as the honored charity." Nguyen hopes to keep Peli Peli involved with the charity throughout the year by hosting seminars on topics like resume creation and interview preparation from an employer's point of view.
While the evening focused on Star of Hope and its clients, regular customers of Peli Peli were also privy to a special experience: 50 customers volunteered to provide service and company to the honored guests. As with the previous event in January, demand outweighed building capacity and volunteers had to be turned away. "We filled up within 2 days and had a waiting list!" says Nguyen. "Our goal is to have a list full of hundreds of volunteers so that we can do more service projects in Houston." Nguyen hopes to inspire other restaurant owners to create their own Table Service Day and spread the love of charity throughout the city so that the gift of food and company can be shared and appreciated by those for whom it is often out of reach. "It is about giving those less fortunate an evening that they might never experience in their life," says Nguyen. "I want restaurant owners to show others that there are people out there who do care and that there is hope! Houston has a HUGE heart and this is a great way for Houston's restaurateurs to affect lives and create happiness. If we can inspire our customers to give back to the community, how many lives can we change?" For his own part, Nguyen is working with Peli Peli to ensure the restaurant's involvement continues and expands, starting with a relationship with MD Anderson this summer to discuss a prom/homecoming event held in-house for children with cancer.
Already the impact is beginning to gain local momentum. Justin Turner, owner/chef at Bernie's Burger Bus, is looking forward to creating a special summertime event for a children's charity. Details will be announced soon.