We had the good fortune of connecting with Thomas Nguyen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Thomas, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I think the most important factor behind the success Peli Peli enjoyed, and also now behind the success I have personally enjoyed in my new career with CBRE, comes down to the relationships I have been able to establish. At the end of the day, the relationships we establish with our families, friends, co-workers and in Peli Peli’s case, our guests, is the only thing of real value, the only thing that really matters. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, so going through that experience really shaped me as a person and helped me place a tremendous value on relationships.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am on my third career after three years as an attorney and then 11 years as a restaurateur with Peli Peli South African Kitchen. Currently I work at CBRE on one of the top retail tenant representation teams in Houston led by Brian Ashby and Sydney Dixon. Simply put, we help businesses find the right locations. It definitely has not been easy to get to this point, and I have made a ton of mistakes, but it has been an incredibly rewarding journey thus far. I have been able to experience things that I never thought possible, such as writing a cover story for a large publication, being on a reality television show, being able to share my knowledge on panels like SXSW. Best of all, I have had the opportunity to make so many meaningful relationships throughout my career that I still maintain today. I feel like my success as a restaurateur and entrepreneur has led me to my new career at CBRE in helping other businesses find the right locations for their growth. My experience and perspective in everything from operations to marketing, branding and public relations will hopefully be of use for all of our clients. At the age of 44, I have never been so excited about what the future holds for me. If there is one lesson that I learned along the way, it is that you cannot be great at something if you are not passionate about it. This one lesson has dictated my entire career.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I think the best part of Houston is the incredibly diverse restaurant industry. So a day with me absolutely would involve a food tour of Houston! There are so many great places to eat and drink so I am not sure how I would fit them all into one day, but I would certainly consider places like Kirby Ice House or East End Backyard to grab a drink and hang out. You can’t enjoy Houston without some Viet-Cajun crawfish, and I love the crawfish at Yummy Seafood and Oyster Bar and at Jenivi’s Seafood Shoppe. A food tour has to include the fried chicken at Himalaya and the grilled goat chops at Aga’s. For dessert, I love the mochi donuts at Bing Su and I know this is terrible to say, but after 11 years, my favorite dessert is still the sticky toffee pudding at Peli Peli. Never gets old.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I definitely would like to dedicate my shoutout to my wife, Kristine. When we met, I had quit my job as an attorney and was at a crossroads in life, not really knowing what I wanted to do next. This was prior to creating Peli Peli. To have her unconditional love at a time when I didn’t really even believe in myself was life-changing. Knowing that she would love me regardless of how Peli Peli worked out was all the support I needed at that time. Knowing that there is at least one person out there who loves you no matter what, I think that is what most people search for their entire lives. I found it in Kristine. She is the reason I had enough courage to follow my passion and change my career for the third time. I would not be where I am at today without her.