Local Asian-American entrepreneur discusses significance of Houston’s two Chinatowns

We're continuing our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with a candid conversation about the AAPI business community in Houston. Thomas Nguyen, CBRE Brand Advisor and Associate, helped us navigate this important and timely topic.

HOUSTON – We’re continuing our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with a candid conversation about the AAPI business community in Houston. Thomas Nguyen, CBRE Brand Advisor and Associate, helped us navigate this important and timely topic. When asked about the increase in hate towards AAPI communities, Nguyen mentions how saddened he is by it.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s going around in the country,” said Nguyen. “We’re all blessed that we live in this great city of Houston. I think we’ve been insulated a little bit because Houston is so diverse.”

Thomas Nguyen, CBRE Brand Advisor and Associate, navigates through the important and timely topic of how to support local AAPI-owned businesses (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Nguyen’s family immigrated to the U.S. while his mother was pregnant with him, making Nguyen the first natural born U.S. citizen in his family. Nguyen and his family moved to Katy, Texas when he was three years old, and have had very positive experiences throughout their time here, making it difficult to fathom all the negative sentiment towards the AAPI community.

“My parents still can’t grasp what’s happening. They immigrated here from Vietnam after the war, and they’ve always looked at this country, and it still is, as a land of opportunity and a wonderful place to live,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen attended the Mayde Creek school system, and looks back fondly on that time, despite being one of the only Asians in school. He later went on to attend the University of Texas, where he helped found the largest Asian interest fraternity in Texas, Omega Phi Gamma, a group geared towards help not only Asians but all races feel welcome.

Thomas Nguyen, CBRE Brand Advisor and Associate, navigates through the important and timely topic of how to support local AAPI-owned businesses (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“I think part of it, we have a responsibility to not only kind of contribute to the community that we live in, but also help our brothers and sisters along the way that need help,” said Nguyen.

Since graduating from UT with a law degree, Nguyen switched gears to pursue his passion for marketing and PR. He returned to Houston, now residing in Cinco Ranch, and started prosperous business ventures, including founding Peli Peli and his current role with CBRE. He noted that the city Houston has also seen some big development changes in the last few decades as well.

Thomas Nguyen, CBRE Brand Advisor and Associate, navigates through the important and timely topic of how to support local AAPI-owned businesses (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“My family has lived in Katy since 1979, so we’ve seen the development of not just Katy but Houston in general,” said Nguyen. “We’re fortunate to have two distinct Chinatowns, and that’s amazing.”

According to Nguyen, there’s the traditional, original Chinatown, a six-mile stretch along Bellaire Boulevard that houses the mom and pops and traditional Asian concepts. Then, there’s the newer Chinatown dubbed Katy Asian Town. The key difference between the two is that 80 percent of the consumers that frequent Bellaire Blvd. are Asian. Conversely, Katy Asian Town serves predominantly non-Asians.

“It’s great to be able to experience Malaysian, and Viet-Cajun crawfish, and Vietnamese cuisine, and Japanese cuisine and every ethnicity and just enjoy the food,” said Nguyen. “For me to travel such a close distance and be able to experience that with my wife is amazing.”

Over the last year, Nguyen was proud to see how the Houston community came together and avoid violence during the Black Live Matter rallies. Similarly, he’s proud to see incidents of hate towards the AAPI community in Houston has been relatively low. He believes it’s in great part due to the city’s vast diversity.

“We live in a great community here in Houston. The Asian community is very tight knit,” said Nguyen. “There’s a lot of people that care about everyone’s well being not only from a business standpoint but as a community.”


About the Author:

Olivia Kolanek is the Features Producer of KPRC 2's Houston Life. She joined the KPRC family in the summer of 2019 after working in non-profit communications for three years. She is passionate about creating content that features good people, good food or a good story. Olivia is a University of Houston alumna, Audible junkie and scuba novice.