The ability to cook does not, however, automatically translate into the capacity to manage a restaurant. The food industry is a fiercely competitive one.
Fortunately for Vietnamese chef Nikki Tran, he succeeded as an “accidental chef” despite his previous failures in the restaurant industry. But what exactly is the secret to his success?
Nikki launched his first restaurant in Vietnam but was doomed to flop from the beginning because of its quick decline. It started on a drunken night when he drafted his first business plan. He had put down a deposit on a new location that same night, hired a chef, and opened a new restaurant within a week.
The only problem was that the chef didn’t show up which caused trouble on the first day it was open. The restaurant also struggled to bring in customers despite the backing of Nikki’s famous actress friend, which resulted in a steady loss of revenue.
Nikki recognized his missteps and realized he was not as well prepared as he thought. Consequently, he worked to improve and reinvent his culinary skills. It did not end up being a challenge for him; instead, he worked toward opening a second restaurant in Houston, Texas, when he returned to the United States.
At that time, he got hooked on crawfish and began eating them frequently. He took it to Vietnam and experimented with it using a typical technique of its culture. His family, friends, and the first people in Vietnam are thrilled to try it out, and they’ve called it “Viet-Texan cuisine.”
This innovation, which was his take on the now-classic Viet-Cajun crawfish boil made using Vietnamese river prawns, became the one that accidentally brought and pushed him into the international limelight.
Soon, he was profiled by media outlets such as Vice, NBC’s Travel Voyager, Houston Eater, and Netflix. He did not let his first failure or lack of experience prevent him from pursuing his dreams and developing relationships until he became a Netflix star. He is also a familiar face in David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, Phil Rosenthal’s Somebody Feed Phil, and the critically acclaimed Street Food: Asia.
Today, Nikki operates three locations of his restaurant, known as “Ku Ba Quán.” And even though he is known for breaking the rules of traditional Vietnamese cuisine and blending in international influences whenever he feels it is appropriate, he has the impression that he has always gone his own way.