Southern Cooking meets Asian Fusion at Fu Manchung
Fu Manchung has been wowing guests since they opened their doors six months ago just a few miles west of 45 on FM 2920 in Spring, TX. Fu Manchung’s website boasts that they are “Not your typical Asian restaurant! It’s not about quick service, it’s about Quality! (we have a very small kitchen, so please be patient, it will be worth the wait.).” Fu Manchung’s cuisine could best be summed up as a “Southern cooking meets Asian fusion” twist on classic Vietnamese dishes, some with a little southern twist with Asian fusion.
Fu Manchung is as mom and pop as you can get, owned by Paul Huynh and Chef Taylor Chung, Paul’s father in-law, with Paul’s mother-in-law Joni Chung pitching in and doing all the rolls – Flying Egg Rolls, Macarollees, Crabby Cream Rolls – every night. Their commitment to quality means that just about everything here is made from scratch including most of the dipping sauces, and they use premium meats and rice grains. One will find some staple dishes like Pho, Egg Rolls and Noodle bowls. What sets Fu Manchung apart are their original dishes – some with quirky names – including the Macarollee appetizer, a crispy egg roll stuffed with mac & cheese and ham bits served with a tangy bbq dipping sauce, and their Crabby Cream Rolls, similar to a crab fried wonton but wrapped in a light and crispy fried spring roll with Philadelphia Cream Cheese and little pieces of imitation crab served with their house made sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Rich, deep, flavorful broths will be are the hallmark of their speciality soups. The broth, made with beef bone marrow and slow simmering for about 12 hours, further showcases their use of quality ingredients. Fu Manchung use filet mignon beef rare slices in their Pho and their beef and chicken meatballs are made from scratch fresh in-house. Fried rice even gets a special touch here, made with a signature sauce recipe mixed in with premium grade Japanese grain rice. Definitely not your ordinary soy sauce Fried Rice. The Tom Yummy Fried Rice is a standout, bringing the flavors of a traditional Thai tom yum soup infused into a rice dish made with a flavorful combo of Thai spices with a spicy kick. Bergen’s BBQ Pork Fried Rice, different than one would think, is made with BBQ pulled pork pulled right off the bone. Aloha Fried rice is made with bacon, bean sprouts, diced shrimp, onion and Spam.
Fu Manchung also has a variety of noodles dishes and signature dinner only dishes like the Wok N Beef made with filet mignon and the Catty Fishluck, a fried Catfish dish. Curry, Ribs, a few vegetarian and tofu dishes round out the menu. Other notables offerings are Boba Tea, Milk Tea, Fruit Teas and Thai teas.
Paul and Taylor sat down with us to answer questions about Fu Manchung.
What made you open up in Spring, Texas?
“I believe it was serendipity that we ended up here in Spring, TX. We took a leap of faith and moved here from Des Moines, IA after living there for almost 40 years. It was time for a new adventure and to escape from the cold winters. My wife had researched and was looking for a city that had nice bike trails as we enjoyed recreational bikes rides back home. So she googled and found The Woodlands, TX with over 200 miles of trail ways. I was nearing the end of another decade of my previous profession, and was ready for a new challenge and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to run and manage a restaurant. Not knowing much about the restaurant industry, I decided to dive in quickly and learn. My younger sister, Mary, who owns Bibo’s Café told me if I was serious about opening a restaurant to move here to Texas as there are a lot of foodies and folks who love to support local businesses. Shortly after moving here, I went to work for their restaurant for one month to gain more experience. I then went on to work for Noodles & Co., in The Woodlands, learning the flow and operations for eight more months. I decided that this was my next calling, so I contacted my father in law, Taylor back home, and asked if he’d like to be the main chef and partner up. Long story short, he and his wife, believed in my vision, quit their jobs, packed up, sold their home and moved here a year after us. Call us crazy, but we call it faith, and just followed our passion. Taylor’s passion was cooking, and mine was serving others in any way. So let’s get back to the main question how we ended up opening here in Spring as I tend to babble on. We were shopping around for a second generation restaurant space because we knew we couldn’t afford a brand new build out. We found a space not too far from The Woodlands, and was about to sign the papers, when an old friend I met and knew from church camp over 20 years ago got in touch with me and who also happened to live here in Spring. He asked what I was up to so I shared that I was about to sign papers for a lease space, and he said, hold off. He told me his wife was a broker, and a space had opened up on 2920, and was a previous restaurant, and wanted me to at least go take a look to see if it was something I would be interested in. So I held off on signing and went to look at this space we are now in. I immediately knew it was the place, didn’t care that it was next to a Chinese restaurant, because Vietnamese isn’t Chinese, nor that there were three to four other Vietnamese restaurants within a 2 miles radius. I don’t see it as competition, as we only compete with ourselves as we love to support other local small businesses in and around as everyone has something unique to offer and their own story. It was a gut feeling and for my friend to contact me, I knew it was a sign, and the rest is history.”
How did you come up with the name, Fu Manchung?
“The name came with the suggestion from Taylor’s youngest son, Tony. All the siblings were throwing around names, and he said, since dad is Chinese & his last name is Chung, and he has a stache, let’s name it after Fu Manchu, but with Chung in it. And you might say, well that implies Chinese, yes, it does as he’s Chinese, but was born in Vietnam and cooks Vietnamese food. Can you tell, we like to have fun? It doesn’t have to make sense, because life sometimes doesn’t make sense. Or does it?”
What cuisine category would you describe Fu Manchung as?
“Vietnamese based/FU-sion. We have dishes inspired by Thai, Chinese, and American.”
I noticed your sign/logo looks very corporate, but that is far from the truth. How does family and community fit into Fu Manchung?
“Yes, our logo was created the same night after Tony came up with the name with the approval of the rest of the family. I was so excited, so I took a piece of paper out and starting sketching, bringing back my elementary art skills. I wanted to incorporate the fu stache, so I drew a bowl of Pho soup as the smile, with chopsticks as the eyes, and the Vietnamese farmer’s hat to finish it off. Family and community are very important to us. My vision and purpose was to use this restaurant space as a place where families can gather to relax and catch up, business folks can hold meetings, and a place of hope and a light to the community and our own team members. Before the restaurant even opened, we invited neighbors over almost once a week to our home for about a year for fellowship and sharing a meal cooked by Taylor. It was through these times, we developed and grew meaningful relationships with our neighbors, who were able to get a taste of our homemade meals and who now are our biggest supporters. I see at least one of the neighbors here eating at least once a week. In relation to some of our team members, we hire on some who aren’t able to find a job elsewhere, and give them a second chance here. That is the hope we provide to help some who are recovering from addictions or have certain limitations where we try to provide a safe and family like environment to help get them back on track and build confidence within. We hope some of them can use our place as a stepping stone to something even better. I’m not ashamed to share about this, as we are as real as it gets, and we try to help out as much as we can, because we do care for their well being. We also practice family life balance here, so if they have a birthday, or need a day off, we’re very flexible. Which is why we close on Sundays for everyone to spend time with family and their church community. We also close from 3-5pm each day to give our team members a break, a meal on the house, and let them get re-energized in preparation for dinner time. During Hurricane Harvey, we closed our restaurant for a few days as Chef Taylor decided to come in and cook warm meals to deliver to first responders along I-45, for folks staying at Spring high school, the police station, and fire station nearby. We got volunteers from our neighbors and friends to come out to help package and deliver. Though it wasn’t much, we thought every little effort would hopefully bring some comfort and our appreciation to those out there helping others. That’s what community should be all about, serving and helping others out while building meaningful relationships and fellowship.”
Your lunch service differs from your dinner service. Explain the differences.
“We offer a lunch casual counter service from 11am to 3pm where you grab a menu inside the entry doorway, walk up to the counter, place your order, pay, and get assigned a number. Guests will get their own drinks and silverware and condiments. We bring the food out to you and clear off your tables when you’re done. We close from 3pm to 5pm, to give all of our team members a break, and for Chef Taylor and his team to prep for the dinner menu items. Dinner is full service, with a wait staff, from 5pm to 9pm, where a host/hostess will greet you and seat you, and a server will take care of you throughout your dine in experience. Why? Well, I’ve worked at both types of restaurants, and thought a hybrid concept such as will allow lunch guests who have a limited lunch hour to get back to work in time and still enjoy a home style cooked meal by eliminating the full wait staff service. It also gives Chef Taylor a smaller menu to prepare for lunch, and then be able during the two hours we close to prepare the fresh ingredients for dinner time menu items. So far it has been well received and you’re still getting service and I see it like the best of both worlds. And there may be some that aren’t fans of casual counter service, but if they prefer full service, then come to dinner time instead, as the lunch menu meals are available all day. I have seen just a handful of folks come in during lunch, sit down, expecting full service, but when they realize it’s counter service, get up and leave. All I can say to that is, they’re missing out, and I hope they realize, walking up to the counter doesn’t take that much more effort than walking to the bathroom and you’ll you’ll still get great service! And you are not expected to tip for casual counter service.”
For someone who hasn’t been to Fu Manchung, what should they expect for their first visit?
“Well, first things first, they should expect to wait patiently for their meals as Chef Taylor prepares most of the menu items from scratch and fresh ingredients. We are not a fast food place, or chain restaurant. It’s like coming to our actual home kitchen. And speaking of kitchen, we have a tiny kitchen that we inherited from the previous restaurant so we don’t have the capability to expand & stuck with it for now. Secondly, they should expect friendly service throughout their entire dine in experience. We strive to make you feel like family here, because that makes it even more special. Expect it to be a warm and inviting atmosphere, where you can hang out with your friends, share a drink (BYOB), and experience a unique taste of Chef Taylor’s homemade sauces for most meals he prepares. Expect to walk away feeling full with maybe some leftovers as we have larger sized portions for our main meals and soup bowls. Don’t expect all the meals to come out at once either, as I mentioned above, we have only 2 cook stations, so Chef Taylor works as quick as he can, and the meals will come out one by one, as some meals take longer than others. So my advice, bring some wine, order some appetizers to hold you over as you enjoy the chatter and ambience within. Did I mention, good music too? We play a variety of music from the 80s, to jazz, to classic rock! And there are no TVs on, nor wall outlets where you can plug cell phones in to recharge.”
What are your most popular lunch menu items? Dinner items?
“I’ll keep this simple. Based on the last 6 months since we opened on Aug. 1st, 2017, our top 3 lunch menu items are Pho-licious, a tie between our Vermicelli Boom Cha Y’all & Phat Thai, and Stir Fu Manoodles. Our most popular appetizers, or what we call Share-edibles are the Flying Eggrolls, Crabby Cream rolls, and a tie between Pho-Rollees and Spring Rolls. Dinner items are the Wok n Beef, Shrimp-a-licious, and Mee Sow Yon. Recently, we added Tom Yummee Soup, and that’s been a popular soup bowl gaining some fans.”
The Pho-rollees is such a great concept, explain what those are and how they came to be on the menu.
“I believe we are the only ones in Houston area to have this concept. Yes, we’ve all heard of the Pho-rrito out on the west coast, where they put the dry pho ingredients in a burrito wrap with all the fixings. But one lazy Sunday afternoon, our family had some leftover pho ingredients from the day prior and it wasn’t enough to make a bowl of pho soup. We were rolling fresh spring rolls for lunch so I asked mom to bring over the leftover pho meat and noodles, and decided to roll it up inside a spring roll rice paper sheet and not waste it. Hence, I married Spring rolls and Pho that day and they became known as Pho-rollees! So it’s the rice noodles and beef meats from the Pho-licious soup all rolled up in a spring roll rice paper sheet. Then served with a side of our beef based Pho broth and hoisin/sriracha that you can dip it in. So again, you get the best of both worlds of the traditional spring rolls and pho combined. And they lived happily ever after, the end.”
How important is the customer’s experience to you?
“Coming from ten years of wedding photography, it is very important to me, not only because that’s the way it should be, but each experience with each new customer should leave a meaningful and lasting impression. When I was doing weddings, I was fortunate to get close to the most intimate and important moments for that couple and their closest family and friends. Seeing the joy, happiness, and being able to capture and freeze those precious moments for life, helped me realize how important my role was in their special day and experience, which happens just once, well usually once. The more time I spent with the bride/groom and their family throughout their day, I felt like one of their family members by the end of the night, and they treated me like family. So I treat this restaurant experience in the same manner, except now I’m not dealing with just one couple at a time, but dozens of guests per day. And each time I find out it’s their first time there, I get excited because I know I have one chance to make them feel like family and hope they enjoy their dine in experience, so they can come back and try other fun things on the menu. I tell my guests, out of 400 plus restaurants here in this area, you chose to come try us out, so I consider it an honor. But you have to also realize, it goes both ways. What we offer you have to be willing to receive and make it your own experience too. Perhaps you tried something and you didn’t like it, so you need to let us know so we can replace it with another meal as we have over a dozen other items on the menu. And at least come back a few times to get to know us and our menu options. Don’t judge us on just one meal or visit. Our motto is ‘Come Happy, Leave Happier!’ We hope.”
Looking at your menu, you have some quirky names for dishes and fun descriptions. Why did you choose to do this?
“Are you calling me a quirk? That I am and more! I’m not your typical Asian guy either, born and raised in Des Moines, IA., corn fed and cow bred minus riding my John Deere! Yes, I chose to create fun names because I was getting tired of the same ole names out there at other similar places. And I like to be unique and some of the names actually are close to the actual Vietnamese names of the meal. Such examples include ‘Baw- Kaw,’ which in Vietnamese is spelled ‘Bo Kho’, so I named it so the phonetics when you say it sounds like you know some Vietnamese. Another one is the vermicelli bowl, called ‘Boom Cha Y’all.’ In Vietnamese it’s spelled ‘Bun Cha Gio.’ Now other dishes such as ‘Broke A$$ Ramen’ noodle stir fry dish, I named because it evoked memories of when I was back in college, a poor student eating Ramen day in and day out, which also happens to the least expensive meal on our menu, so very fitting. So these names are meant to bring a smile to your face, that’s all.”
Where did Chef Taylor learn his style of cooking?
“Chef Taylor learned his cooking style from a variety of avenues. First avenue was he married a princess, so he had to cook and clean around the house full time, so he acquired the most basic cooking skills from all those years pampering his honey. He then got a part time job at Holiday Inn as a banquet chef and worked there for many years, learning to prepare meals, garnishes for weddings, business meetings, and guests. He also volunteered to cook for the church events back home in the Midwest on special holidays and yearly church conference events for 300-400 people. In his spare time, he would play around with sauces and create his own and have us kids try it out. He is truly a wizard at work with how he prepares, makes, and cooks his meals.”
What are Chef Taylor’s favorite dishes?
- Wok n Beef
- Tom Yummee Soup
- Bahn Mee
- Catty Fishluck
- Hot & Mild Mee-wontonic
What are Paul’s favorite dishes?
- Mee Sow Yon
- Wok n Beef
- Vermicelli Boom Cha Y’all
- Tom Yummee Soup
- Phat Thai
- Chicken Currylish
Fu manchung’s Pho/Soups are so flavorful, without giving away a lot, what’s the secret?
“First of all, Taylor and I are not big fans of MSG so we don’t add MSG. So knowing that most other places use MSG to flavor soups, because that is a big flavor enhancer, he had to figure out a way to make up for that, and it’s simple. Stewing from lots of bones, whether it’s beef bone marrow, chicken bones, to pork bones, he loads up and allows the pot for each of his soups to cook for very long periods on low simmering heat. For example, the pot of Pho-licious he starts the night before around 11pm, and it cooks overnight until 11am the next morning. It’s very time consuming, but we want to make sure we get most of the sweetness and savory flavors out of the bones. And instead of regular sugar, we use rock candy sugar, which adds in our opinion a nice sweet balance to the broths.”
What is the Pho-King bowl?
“This bowl of pho is the big daddy of them all here at Fu Manchung. It’s a king sized bowl, that is equivalent to 5 of our regular soup sized bowls. It’s meant to be shared amongst a group of friends or family. We sell it for the price of four regular bowls at $39.95, so you get the fifth bowl free.”
Anyone tackle the Pho-King bowl and finished it yet?
“Yes, actually two people have attempted it but the bowl won in the end. I actually think it is a bit crazy to try to take on this bowl. But I’m not going to stop anyone from trying. You must sign a waiver though as we do not want to be responsible for any side effects or you ending up in a Pho-coma. There was a group of four ladies, won’t mention names, but they were able to finish it amongst themselves during one Saturday afternoon. But in case anyone out there thinks they have a chance, if you do finish it within an hour, then I will pay for your bowl, and you get your photo taken and put on the wall, which is empty now. And you get to take bathroom breaks if needed during the hour. I’m not that mean.”
Do you cater?
“Yes we do, and since we’ve opened, we have catered several parties and events. And the catering menu is posted on our website at the bottom of the menu for full orders, and you can order half orders too, or contact us for any customized smaller orders. We just ask that you come pick up your party trays of goodies either at 11am for lunch time, or 5pm at dinner time as we don’t cook catering orders during our normal business operating hours.”
What does the future hold for Fu Manchung? Another location? Add menu items?
“Great question, maybe we can come back to this question in five years after our lease is up because we signed a five year lease. I’ve always had a vision and big dream of being that next restaurant to franchise as I don’t know or am currently aware of any Vietnamese restaurant franchises. I’ve already had several guests talk to me about investment opportunities should we open a second location or grow the business, but I tell them to hold off and give us some time to grow the business and streamline our processes since it is our first family restaurant business. With regards to adding menu items, due to our small kitchen it’s very hard to add more at this time. We had to cut about 8 meals after our soft opening, and we’ve learned now that if we were to open another place, we need a much larger kitchen and storage space. Live and learn I guess. But from time to time, we plan to offer chef specials, that’s how Broke A$$ Ramen, Tom Yumee soup, and Rib-o-flavor all started as specials on certain days, but then guests requested us to put in on the menu and we listened and did. We have another limited time special menu item in the works now, so stay tuned for that announcement on our Facebook page upcoming.”
Fu Manchung has had great reviews from the very beginning? What do you attribute your success to?
“I think this question should also be directed to the 400+ reviewers on Yelp, Facebook , and Google combined. From my perspective, my goal is to always provide a service unlike any other restaurants you’ll ever visit. I like to have fun, I like to serve others, and I like happy and patient customers. It’s like my former wedding day photography experiences, everyone on a wedding day is so happy! We attribute the shared success thus far to having a passionate chef who spends 12-14 hours a day in the kitchen preparing his sauces and cooking the meals from scratch, and the community and all the local support and guests here in Spring and surrounding cities that have dined with us. Great food plus great service, is always a win-win, but I’ve realized, I can’t win them all. Reality in this business that I’ve learned quickly, is that I can’t please every single palate or person’s lack of patience. And that’s ok, because to me, I defined success not by ratings or numbers only, but by the new friendships and relationships made so far and that’s priceless! I am also very appreciative and thankful for Nick Rama and Nick’s Local Eats foodie group who helped us gain a lot of exposure during the soft opening.”
Five words to describe Fu Manchung?
“Eclectic, Real, Charming, Fun, & Delish”
Nick Rama is a food writer, contributor of Hello Woodlands, and shares his restaurant experiences on Nick’s Local Eats at NicksLocalEats.com and the Q Up The Burgers Facebook page. Nick enjoys helping the small business owner, supporting his community with fundraising for food banks, and plans tasting events with locally owned mom and pop restaurants.