Company Description

Peli Peli’s South African restaurants have taken Houston by storm. Very few people had heard of South African food when the Peli Peli team first opened its Vintage Park location in 2009. Peli Peli’s first location was listed among OpenTable’s Top 100 American Fare Restaurants for 2013 and by 2015, it was rated the #1 restaurant in Houston on TripAdvisor (out of 7,511 restaurants). Building on the success of the first location, the Peli Peli team launched its flagship restaurant in Houston’s Galleria mall in 2015. Currently, both locations are among the top 10 restaurants in Houston on TripAdvisor.

South African cuisine is a melting pot of flavors, bringing together Dutch, Portuguese and Indian inspired dishes influenced by centuries of cultural overlap. Peli Peli serves authentic South African delicacies along with American steak, chicken and seafood favorites, all crafted to deliver a fusion experience that Houstonia Magazine describes as “utterly delicious.” Dining at Peli Peli isn’t memorable just for its delectable dishes. The team has constructed one of Houston’s “Most Instagram Worthy” dining experiences (Zagat) with its dynamic, one-of-a-kind lighting display built into the Galleria location’s ceiling. The slow transition from blue and purple hues to orange and pink create an ambiance that mimics the brilliant African sunsets that inspired the team. The overhead display is juxtaposed with natural wood furniture, adding a timeless rustic feel to the modern lighting and décor. Chef Paul Friedman’s decades of experience around the globe have honed his skills across multiple genres. However, he had always wanted to open a restaurant that showcased his home country’s diverse dishes. Among the accolades that rings truest are the testimonials from South African expats who insist that Peli Peli is indeed the real deal. TheSouthAfrican.com named Peli Peli in its list of the top 15 best South African restaurants in the world, one of only two in the US to make the list.

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Source: Fox 26 Houston "So We Eat On - @pelipeli", published on Mar 25, 2016 (FOX 26 News reporter Angela Chen)

Business Model

Peli Peli focuses on delivering a fine dining experience that fuses South African cuisine with Southern comfort food. Although a portion of the menu is 100% authentic South African, Peli Peli is the first South African restaurant to incorporate American cuisine.

Peli Peli serves lunch and dinner throughout the week, and its recently launched weekend brunch menu has been well received. Event catering has consistently played a role in expanding the team’s reach, and outside delivery service has recently picked up through its partnerships with third-party service providers (e.g., Uber Eats, Favor).

Company culture is a key component of Peli Peli’s strategic focus and advantage. The team dedicates significant resources towards employee development and satisfaction, believing its employees to be key contributors to Peli Peli’s success in delivering an outstanding customer experience. Wages and salaries are set above industry averages, and training and recreational perks for the staff help to bolster loyalty, morale, and overall enthusiasm.

Peli Peli is also resolute in its mission to serve the community. In June 2015, Peli Peli launched an event called “Table Service Day,” closing its Galleria location for an evening to host a dinner for 150 homeless clients and volunteers with the Star of Hope Foundation. The team hopes to inspire other restaurateurs to do the same. In April 2016, the Peli Peli team will host a prom for 125 teens receiving care at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Numerous restaurants, community leaders, musical acts, and dozens of volunteers have joined in, dedicating their time and resources to create an unforgettable evening for the children and their families. These initiatives are woven into the fabric of what Peli Peli is looking to accomplish with its business, serving the community.

The Peli Peli team regularly pushes the envelope with marketing and PR initiatives to further generate awareness for its unique category. The team recently appeared on the nationally syndicated reality show “Restaurant Startup” (CNBC), where the trio pitched a new quick service concept called Peli Peli Kitchen (“PPK”) and negotiated the largest investment in the show’s history – a $1.25 million commitment from successful restaurateur Elizabeth Blau. Although the investment was not consummated, the show highlighted Peli Peli’s culinary appeal and ability to develop fantastic experiences for its customers. Chef Paul has also made appearances on “Cutthroat Kitchen” (Food Network) and numerous local and regional shows to promote Peli Peli and South African cuisine.

Location Analysis

Peli Peli is located at 5085 Westheimer Road in Houston’s Galleria area (“The Galleria”), an international shopping and dining destination that hosts more than 24 million visitors annually. The Galleria offers 375 stores, 30 restaurants, two hotels and a full-sized ice rink, including high-end designer stores like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chanel, Jimmy Choo and Ralph Lauren. In total, The Galleria covers over 2 million square feet of retail space.

The average annual income in the area surrounding Peli Peli’s Galleria location is almost double that of the national average, at approximately $117,000. Expenditures on meals away from home in the surrounding area exceed the national average by more than 12%, while alcoholic beverage expenditures away from home exceed the national average by almost 20%.

Peli Peli is adjacent to Interstate Route 610, a highway that sees daily traffic counts in excess of 215,000 automobiles.

Source: Piinpoint


Meet the Team

Paul Friedman
Executive Chef, Partner

Chef Paul Friedman is the Executive Chef of Peli Peli. Chef Paul has over 35 years of experience in the restaurant industry, having owned and operated successful restaurant concepts in South Africa and Germany. Chef Paul’s menu features authentic South African cuisine along with steak, chicken and seafood favorites that are prepared in his distinctive South African fusion-style.

He was awarded the People’s Choice Winner in the 2014 Gumbo Smackdown and the Classic Division Winner in the 30th Annual Caesar Salad Competition. In 2013, his South African cuisine put him at the top at Houston’s Wine & Food Week competition where he took home the coveted Waterford Crystal “Chef of Chefs” Award.

Aiki Cong “Michael” Tran
Chief Executive Officer, Partner

Michael leads the business, finance, and technology initiatives at Peli Peli.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Michael has operated successful restaurant technology, construction and infrastructure businesses in the Houston area for over 15 years. His last business, Transtar Point of Sale, served over 400 restaurant systems, including Popeye’s, Fuddruckers, Church’s Chicken, and Bahama Bucks.

Michael was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007 by the Houston Asian Chamber of Commerce.


Thomas Nguyen
Chief Marketing Officer, Partner

Thomas heads up communication, community outreach, and marketing initiatives for Peli Peli.

Thomas completed his law degree at the University of Texas at Austin and started his career as a litigation attorney. Dissatisfied with the path he was on, he left his legal career behind to pursue his passion in business and marketing.

In 2015, he was named one of Houston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” for his achievements in philanthropy and brand development.