Florida Foodie: From frat brothers to business partners, owners of Viet-Nomz share success story

Chris Chen, Phil Nguyen, Mike Cho met in college before going into business together

Chris Chen, Phil Nguyen and Mike Cho all met in college as members of the same fraternity, Pi Delta Psi Fraternity Inc.

“After graduating, we hung out a lot. We went to eat at different places. And you know, our brotherhood went further than UCF,” Chen said.

After college, Chen and Nguyen began working in corporate jobs, but they weren’t happy with it.

[ADD YOUR BUSINESS TO THE FLORIDA FOODIE DIRECTORY]

“Chris, and I just started talking — (I) wanted to do a restaurant, he wanted to do coffee — and it just kind of progressed from there,” Nguyen said. “And when we added Mike, that’s when the fast-casual concept started. And we kind of grew it into what Viet-Nomz is now. But originally, we were going to do just, a regular sit-down coffee shop and fast-casual Vietnamese wasn’t really a thing back in 2016.”

Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:

After coming up with the idea, the three business partners quickly made the leap to turn their dream into a reality.

“It was pretty scary,” Chen said. “We left our jobs kind of without any concrete future. You know, time was kind of ticking. So we were just trying to look for any place that was empty and a lot of places wouldn’t really take us seriously, because we were like 24, 26 years old.”

Cooks preparing food at Viet-Nomz. (Viet-Nomz)

The three all grew up around restaurants that their families owned. This prompted their parents to show some concern when the trio wanted to get into the industry themselves.

[TRENDING: Roller coaster ride of temperatures in Central Florida with new front | Attorney general reviewing complaints against Volusia hot tub company | Ask Trooper Steve: Why does Florida not have a front, rear license plate? | Become a News 6 Insider]

“They told me ‘Don’t open a restaurant,’” Chen said. “I watched them struggle and work really hard every day. So I was born into that life and I knew how hard it was. But after college, I worked in other places and ultimately, I was kind of like, ‘You know what I think... I think I want to do it.’”

The group of entrepreneurs managed to find a small location in Winter Park. Two years later, Viet-Nomz expanded into their second location in the Waterford Lakes area, which was a big upgrade for the trio.

“Our first location is only 1,000 square feet. So we were really limited. So our ideas that we had, we actually made a workout Waterford which is like 50% bigger,” Cho said.

The three have now expanded to three locations across Central Florida — Winter Park, Waterford Lakes and Lake Mary.

They believe that one of the keys to their success is the accessibility of their menu.

“I think one of the great things about Viet-Nomz is that someone who’s never had Vietnamese cuisine, we’re a great restaurant to start with,” Chen said. “We pretty much highlight all the popular Vietnamese fares.”

Food from Viet-Nomz (Viet-Nomz)

On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Chen, Nguyen and Cho share how they worked to develop their menu using their families home kitchens to cook. They also talk about how they dealt with the pandemic and share some of their favorite menu items.

Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”


Florida Foodie is a biweekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts. You can also watch Florida Foodie anytime on News 6+.



About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.