Best of Houston

Roostar on the Rise: Building a Successful Small Business

The co-owners of Houston’s most popular bánh mì restaurant, Roostar Vietnamese Grill, are proud of the success they’ve achieved thus far. College sweethearts since age 18, Ronnie Nguyen and Linda Nguyen are now engaged and both actively involved in the day-to-day workings of building their business and expanding their brand.

Roostar opened in 2013 as Vietnam Poblano at 1411 Gessner in a commercially ethnic part of town. When they were assigned a project in their UH business class to create a business plan, they picked the Spring Branch location because it made sense for the kind of cuisine they had in mind. The words “Vietnam” and “Poblano” signal a combination of two cultures, Vietnamese and Hispanic. The vision was to create something that encompassed the people and flavors in the surrounding area because “that’s who would make up the customer base,” said Linda.

In 2015, the couple decided to re-brand to allow them more growth. Linda explained the thought process behind the new name and logo: “We picked the rooster as the logo because French cuisine resonates in many of our recipes, from the bread and café du monde coffee to the housemade creamy pâté and mayonnaise.” The rooster is a revered symbol of the French people. “The ‘star’ in Roostar was our nod to the Lone Star State. Ronnie and I were both born and raised here; Texas is our home, Houston is our heart,” she added.

After four months, the restaurant re-launched with a brand-new logo featuring a red rooster. Counter space and kitchen equipment were moved around to increase efficiency. New processes were put in place and team members were trained accordingly. “In old-school Asian restaurants, service and cleanliness are not the top priorities,” said Ronnie. “We wanted to do things better and we wanted our customers and staff to notice that.”

The restaurant is opening its second location in the Uptown/Galleria area by the end of December at 5551 Richmond, former site of Napoli, in time for the anticipated Super Bowl crowd. This location will feature an updated menu and will offer six rotating craft beer taps (the original store does not serve alcohol).

The Palmer Brook Schooley AIA Architecture and Design firm was chosen to design the Uptown/Galleria location. Ronnie said that they are very careful when choosing “partners in their success.” “From asking Slow Dough to deliver us the best bread in the city to enlisting Revention to customize our POS (point of sale) system, our vendors become more than just vendors to us. They become a part of us,” he said.

It was a no-brainer for them when choosing Schooley to be the architects of the new Roostar. Schooley’s other notable projects in Houston include Kata Robata, Soma Sushi and a collaboration with Found for the Home’s Aaron Rambo on Local Foods. Linda said, “They [Schooley] are masters at their craft, artists really."

Roostar has been recognized many times since 2013. It was featured on Yelp’s Top 100 List in 2015, was voted Best Bánh Mì shop by the Houston Press in 2016, got a recent mention in My Table as one of the best bánh mì restaurants and was back-to-back People’s Choice Winner at the 2015 and 2016 Great Bánh Mì cookoffs.

Roostar’s current top sellers are the grilled pork, chopped rib eye and special banh mì. All sandwiches are served with garlic aioli, pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapeños, cucumbers and soy sauce. Add-ons include avocado, a fried egg, pâté spread or extra meat. In addition to sandwiches, the menu also offers rice and vermicelli plates, pork belly, shrimp or fried tofu spring rolls, egg rolls and fried chicken wings.

Roostar Vietnamese Grill
1411 Gessner Road, Suite I
Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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Cuc Lam is a freelance food writer for the Houston Press and local pop-up chef. She enjoys teaching cooking classes and hosting dinner parties when she is not writing.