Zen’s Chonnie Richey On A Filipino Festival And How She Plans To Grow Her Business

by Steven Doyle

It has been just over one year since the young ladies at Zen Bistro and Dessert Bar opened their doors in Deep Ellum at the old Blind Lemon spot on Main Street. Since then Chonnie Richey and Czarina Hounsel have grown their little empire to stellar proportions.  We sat down with Chonnie last night to find out how the business of cakeballery and Filipino food is going and see what the sisters might have planned for the near future.  

We ran a bit of your history when you first opened your doors just over one year ago, but tell us what inspired you to open your doors.

Karma. It’s all about Karma.  The whole thing started with our cake ball business. The whole year morphed into Central Market for us and the universe and everything fell into place. This space came about at a very reasonable rate. There wasn’t too much going on in Deep Ellum at that time. I love the space. Back in the day I hung out here a lot.

There was always talks about opening the dessert bar and introducing Filipino food to Dallas. There are some smaller restaurants in the suburbs, but they are more the buffet type, we wanted to make it a bit sexier so non Filipino’s can come in and taste the food and fall in love with it as we have.

How is the general public receiving Filipino food?

Amazingly the general public is embracing our food. We are more popular with local foodies than the Filipino population and for a reason.  We served tapas-sized portions and it is not the family style portions most Filipinos are used to. Younger Filipinos like the portion control of the food and the ability to eat a large variety at one sitting.

We cook everything fresh. Nothing is prepared in advance. We introduce this with San Miquel beer, which is Filipino and add our gourmet desserts and it is a really great experience.

What are some of your favorite dishes you offer here at Zen?

A must try dish is our classic caldereta. Think of it like you would a beef stew with a liver sauce. We do a texas twist with Serrano and habanero peppers.  I also love the Zen egg roll which is my dad’s recipe and pancit, which is a rice noodle dish from the Philippines.

One thing that is amazing is an oxtail and tripe stew with a peanut sauce. Besides the authentic stuff we also have some fusion dishes like our Zen tacos. We use many of the meats used in our dishes in a fried wonton shell and add a wasabi mayo. It is one of my favorites. We also have a few cake balls with Filipino ingredients.

We have actually spotted your cake balls in Central Market, where else can we find your product?

We started out in four Central Markets and today we are in seventeen locations including all the Market Streets in Texas.

We know you are a big booster for the Filipino culture, how do you plan to further the cause?

Glad you asked!  We are actually putting together FilipinoFest 2012. We are working with the Deep Ellum outdoor market to put in the festival on Main Street. We will have all sorts of Filipino street food out here from different vendors, we will feature Filipino businesses with art work and crafts just to showcase the community here in Dallas.

There will be live bands from 11am to 5pm and feature a contest for the best Filipino cuisine.

What is something you are planning that no one knows about?

We think that we have the market to make our Filipino food to freeze and sell in the different supermarkets.  We want to bring our brand to the Southwest where there are not many Filipino restaurants and make that available to everyone. So in the next few years we want to increase our wholesale business which includes our savory foods. We will be looking at a larger, separate kitchen for that side of our operation.

Last nihgt the ladies of Zen hosted an American Idol watching party and there were plenty of excited people who turned out for the young Filipino singer, Jessica Sanchez. Plates of the food were buzzing past us as we sat and chatted and it is time we stop and enjoy some ourselves.

Zen Bistro and Dessert Bar
2805 Main Street  Dallas
(214) 390-3269

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Filed under Chonnie Richey, Filipino Food

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