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Houston Vietnamese restaurant wins $1M VC investment in top industry competition

Saigon Hustle owners Sandy Nguyen and Cassie Ghaffar. Courtesy of Saigon Hustle

Anew Houston restaurant will be able to expand courtesy of a $1 million venture capital investment. The Savory Fund selected Houston Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Hustle as the winner of its Million Dollar Restaurant Launch competition.

The private equity firm picked the Houston restaurant from a pool of more than 240 applicants, according to a release. In addition to the money, the investment brings marketing support and access to tools that allow a restaurant to assess its financial performance.

First launched as a ghost kitchen in 2020, Saigon Hustle opened a dedicated brick and mortar restaurant in February. The fast casual concept offers both well-executed takes on classic Vietnamese fare as well as creative interpretations, such as honey-glazed salmon rolls or a twist on the classic bánh xèo: a flour and turmeric crepe filled with braised pork belly, shrimp, and vegetables.

Winning the competition will allow Saigon Hustle founders Cassie Ghaffar and Sandy Nguyen to open a second location of the fast casual restaurant. Nguyen tells CultureMap that the duo have been looking in a number of neighborhoods, including Katy, Memorial, and Bellaire-Meyerland.

"I had tears in my eyes from the overwhelming emotions and we both screamed," Nguyen writes in a message about how she reacted to the news. "This partnership means so much to us."

Asked to elaborate, she notes that Savory Fund's founders have a background in the restaurant industry. They have experience growing restaurants into multi-unit operations.

"More importantly the managing partner also comes from the tech industry," she explains. "They have an amazing team for every aspect to run a successful brand, and that’s what’s so admirable and respectable. We are beyond thrilled at the opportunities we have with them."

Saigon Hustle is one of three establishments Ghaffar and Nguyen operate as part of their Ordinary Concepts hospitality group. They also own Sunday Press, a coffee shop and cafe in Garden Oaks that's adjacent to Saigon Hustle, and Ginger Kale, a healthy eating restaurant in Hermann Park.

“We are thrilled to partner with Cassie and Sandy and select Saigon Hustle as the winner of our Million Dollar Restaurant Launch opportunity,” Savory managing director Andrew K. Smith added. “We are passionate about helping as many restaurateurs as we can because we are restaurant operators at our core. We know the journey from concept to first location and we know the challenges and struggles that accompany growth from first to second unit and we understand them intimately. We hope to create a lifetime worth of success and inspire other concepts to never give up on themselves."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Here's what Houston research news dominated this year on InnovationMap. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

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