Cassie Ghaffar and Sandy Nguyen were already plotting for another location soon after they opened their fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant and drive-thru, Saigon Hustle, in February. Now, they have a million dollars to help make it happen.
The pair, who also own Ginger Kale in Hermann Park and coffee shop Sunday Press in Garden Oaks, beat out 240 applicants across the country to secure the $1 million investment from the Savory Fund’s Million Dollar Restaurant Launch competition.
Savory Fund, a private equity firm owned by restaurant operators, opened its call last fall with the intent of awarding a restaurant entrepreneur the resources to open or assist with their second location. Ghaffar says they learned they won two weeks ago when Savory Fund operators came for a surprising visit.
“A lifetime could probably not prepare us to feel how we do today,” Ghaffar says. “We waited a long time for this day to come, and we’ve conditioned ourselves to want to do something big, so we’re ready for the journey.”
Ghaffar says she and Nguyen had already been planning for Saigon Hustle’s success long before its opening, with the goal of expanding a restaurant on a large scale. Knowing how important it is for restaurant owners and operators to prove themselves before they earn an investment, Ghaffar says they predicted that it would be at least 2 1/2 years of hard work before they could open a second location.
“In our mind, we thought, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to prove it, and then join forces with a fund,” Ghaffar says.
But within the first month of opening, Saigon Hustle’s fast-casual, drive-thru model was a hit. The restaurant, which serves up banh mi sandwiches and vermicelli and rice bowls with an emphasis on fresh ingredients, was projected to hit year-three numbers within the first year, she says, and their introduction to the Savory Fund has “opened this whole box up.”
“Now, we can take everything we know about this business and run,” without the setback or worry about finances for the opening,” says Ghaffar. “We are confident in our own operations, and we’ll continue to replicate this model.”
Ghaffar says she and Nguyen, who also opened their other two establishments during the pandemic, are already scouting out suitable real estate for another Saigon Hustle drive-thru in places like Spring Branch-Memorial, Meyerland, Braeswood, and even Rice Village.
With hopes to identify the location within the next 45 to 60 days, they plan to build out from there within eight months. “We’re going to move on real fast after this,” says Ghaffar, noting that they plan to open a third and fourth location shortly after the second, eventually growing Saigon Hustle locations to the double-digits.
“Vietnamese is coming into this fast-casual space, and although there are other brands, they don’t quite checkmark into the fast-casual space like us,” Ghaffar says. “Now, we’re teamed up with a company that does this day-in and day-out...With their efforts, and ours, I have no doubts. We’re over the moon. We’re Houston proud, and now, we’re going to expand out.”