New Asian Grocery Market and Lounge Ups Fort Worth’s International Food Power — Hao’s Grocery and Lao Che Lounge Beckon
This North Texas Entrepreneur Refused to Give Up and Created Something New InsteadBY Courtney Dabney // 02.08.23
Hao's Grocery & Cafe is located at 120 St. Louis in Fort Worth's Southside neighborhood.
The Pantry served Vietnamese classics like the vermicelli noodle salad topped with tender pork. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)
Hao Tran teaches guests how to perfect their own dumplings at a recent Dim Sum party.
It’s been a rough year for Fort Worth entrepreneur Hao Tran and it’s only February. The Vietnamese immigrant and Fort Worth Independent School District math teacher is a fixture in the city’s food scene. Tran is passionate about traditional Vietnamese cuisine and started hosting hand-made dumpling pop-ups along with her friend Dixya Bhattarhi many years ago. Now, she has her own Asian market dubbed Hao’s Grocery & Cafe.
But getting to this point wasn’t easy.
Tran opened a tiny place called The Pantry along Magnolia with another friend Natasha Bruton last summer. The two partners have now parted ways with Tran taking over the space that was formerly home to The Table, located nearby at 120 St. Louis Ave., when the rest of her partners in that separate venture moved on to open a new downtown Fort Worth spot called 3rd Street Market.
The Table’s never had a missed lease payment, even during COVID, Tran notes. But there are still two years remaining on the lease. So Tran’s trying to make a go of it alone in the space. Enter Hao’s Grocery & Cafe in Fort Worth’s South Main neighborhood.
Tran has filled Hao’s Grocery with locally sourced and hard-to-find Asian staples. The kinds of things you would normally have to trek to Haltom City’s Asian markets to find. She’s even working with local Vietnamese farmers who are providing Hao’s Grocery with locally grown Vietnamese herbs and vegetables.
That’s a whole lot of change for this Fort Worth space in a matter of months, but it’s not ending there.
Tran plans to open the new Lao Che Lounge next door in the coming weeks, adding a dedicated private meeting room to the mix.
“I’m moving the dining table in that space to increase my retail landscape,” Hao Tran tells PaperCity Fort Worth. “Lao Che Lounge is a play on Indiana Jones in The Temple of Doom.”
After fighting off the movie’s villain Lao Che, Harrison Ford makes his escape boarding a plane. And as it is taking off, Ford quips “Nice try, Lao Che.” Then Indiana Jones slams the door of the plane and the audience sees Lao Che Air Freight is painted on the outside of the airplane he just boarded. So much for the clean getaway.
“And then the plane flies into the sunset,” Tran laughs.
It’s been that kind of a year for Hao Tran. But this Fort Worth entrepreneur is picking up the pieces and moving forward. The design of her new space was crafted by architect and friend Marta Rozanich of Konstrukcio Studio. The new logo was designed by the son of a close friend, pro bono.
The sweat equity and painting required to bring Lao Che Lounge to life was achieved with the help of other friends. This new Fort Worth space took a village in many ways.
“People can host events and meetings in the private separate space,” Tran says.
The aircraft theme comes through in a sliding door made from an airplane fuselage and a light fixture crafted from an airplane wing dangles overhead. Hao Tran envisions Hao’s Grocery and Lao Che Lounge continuing to serve as social spaces.
Hao Tran has already begun hosting dim sum parties, sushi 101 classes, and communal and social hot pot dinners, where proteins are cooked in simmering broth, These dinners sold out for both January and February, but more are planned for the coming months.
Hao’s Grocery and Lao Che Lounge are a truly Vietnamese experience and Tran’s dumplings, which she says are still her “bread and butter” will be stocked in the freezer. Ready for you to take home.