At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when rashes of violence targeting Asian and Asian Americans were spreading across the country, Houston friends Brian Rama, Julie Nong, Michael Ma, and Isabel Protomartir felt overwhelmed but compelled to act. Social media was ablaze with activism targeting violence and racism; within Houston, local Asian-owned restaurants and businesses were shuttering as fear spread.
“We were all just feeling so bogged down,” says Protomartir. Still, the group wanted to find a way to help, “and we wanted to do that in our way” — a way that would celebrate their respective Asian cultures.
The four, each of whom work in public relations, put their heads together. Food, they knew, would be a central theme, and that they needed a slogan or symbol that would provide comfort. In May 2021, the group launched “Have a Nice Day” — a free market series that celebrates chefs, makers, and creators of color, while also spotlighting causes or organizations important to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and raising money through raffles and merchandise.
That month, the team kicked off Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with the debut of their mini market at Prauper Studios, featuring just eight vendors and pop-up businesses including Filipino food business Ube Co. HTX, the family-owned dumpling restaurant Dumpling Haus, and Filipino pop-up vendor Aleng Nina’s. Protomartir says the group was “blown away” by the support, with more than 250 people attending the first market and vendors selling out within hours.
The title, she says, was an endearing ode to the local Asian community, where “Thank you, have a nice day!” is a common saying not only verbalized but branded on takeout bags and boxes around Chinatown. “It was a symbol of comfort that we all knew, and it just felt right as food is something that is at the heart of the Asian communities,” Protomartir says. “It’s something that bonds the four of us and our friends together.”
In the following six months, the group hosted four more markets, including holiday- and Lunar New Year-themed renditions. And this year, nearly 30 vendors, including smash burger pop-up Burger Bodega, TeaGu Cafe, Katy’s designer cake purveyor Butter Baby Bakery, and coffee catering company Fellowship Coffee, commemorated the market’s one-year anniversary at Post Houston, bringing exposure to several growing businesses all owned by people of color or other underrepresented groups. More than 2,000 people attended, the group says.
But the Have a Nice Day group says they’re just getting started. This month, it will host a market at the Ion, Midtown’s new multi-purpose tech space, showcasing Burmese food from MasterChef Legends finalist Suu Khin, halal gourmet hot dogs from Mad Dogs, and Filipino and Lao cuisine from Fat Funk. It has plans to extend its line of “Thank You, Have a Nice Day” totes, shirts, and other goods to spread its joyful message and help raise funds for local nonprofit the Sukoon Foundation to increase awareness and generate support for those affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan.
In October, the market will host a special celebration for Filipino American Heritage Month, partnering with Asian-owned businesses like the Heights’ ice cream shop Underground Creamery and Pudgy’s Bakery, which recently debuted its first brick-and-mortar after operating as a pop-up in multiple markets, including Have a Nice Day.
“They’ve been a huge part of our growth and vice versa. We’re excited to have a little bit of fun and collaborate with them outside of the markets,” says Protomartir. “And we can’t wait for people to try what we’re working on.”
Have a Nice Day’s next free market will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, September 18, at the Ion (4201 Main Street). The event will be held both indoors and outdoors.