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Emerging Brands

This Houston drive-thru restaurant just won $1M

Single-unit Vietnamese concept Saigon Hustle was the winner of the Million Dollar Restaurant Launch sponsored by Mercato Partners’ Savory Fund.
Sandy Nguyen and Cassie Ghaffar with their $1 million winnings. / Photograph courtesy of Savory Fund

Saigon Hustle just hustled its way to $1 million.

The Vietnamese drive-thru concept in Houston on Tuesday was named the winner of the Million Dollar Restaurant Launch. The contest is sponsored by Savory Fund, the arm of private-equity firm Mercato Partners that invests in emerging restaurant concepts.

Saigon will get a $1 million infusion from Savory to help it grow. 

“Throughout the last 10 years of my career, I have always reminded myself that the hard work and sacrifice would pay off one day,” said Saigon Hustle co-owner Cassie Ghaffar in a statement. “Not only has it paid off, our partnership with Savory is the ultimate icing on the cake that brings everything full circle.”

Ghaffar and best friend Sandy Nguyen, owners of multiconcept group Ordinary Concepts, opened Saigon Hustle in February in a former tire shop. The restaurant generated immediate buzz with its takeout-friendly approach to Vietnamese staples like banh mi sandwiches, rice bowls and noodles. 

Savory, which has until now invested primarily in small chains, launched the competition last year in hopes of boosting a new restaurant, a restaurant that had closed during the pandemic or a single-unit concept that wanted to grow. It selected Saigon Hustle from a pool of more than 240 applicants. 

“This is just the beginning for Saigon Hustle, and we are very excited to be a part of this new venture,” said Alonso Castañeda, VP of brand development and strategy for Savory, in a statement. “We believe with our experience and their hard work, Saigon Hustle can become the next big name in new flavor trends in the industry.” 

In addition to the investment, Saigon will get the support and mentorship of the dozens of restaurant veterans who make up Savory Fund. They’ll also get access to loyalty tools from Thanx and repair and maintenance service from 86 Repairs at no cost.

With Savory behind them, Ghaffar and Nguyen hope to expand Saigon Hustle across the U.S. 

“I cried tears of joy at the announcement,” Nguyen said in a statement. “We didn’t just win $1 million, we won a partnership of a lifetime.”

Created in 2020, the $200 million Savory Fund has backed chains such as The Crack Shack, Swig, R&R Barbeque, Via 313 and Pincho. 

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