KATY, TEXAS – Get ready to visit Katy for a different kind of banh mi experience. Chef-owner Alex Au-Yeung of Phat Eatery has teamed up with chef and pop-up dinner queen Cuc Lam to convert the space next to his popular Malaysian restaurant into a new all-day concept. YELO, a Vietnamese sandwich shop specializing in craft banh mi and specialty coffee, is anticipated to open late this summer in Katy Asian Town at 23119 Colonial Pkwy, Suite B-3. It will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After taking over the space next to Phat Eatery last fall to expand his restaurant to twice its size and better meet the groundswell of demand for his scratch-made Malaysian street food, Au-Yeung contemplated what to do with the rest of the unused real estate. One day, the lack of a good banh mi shop in the area came up while chatting with fellow restaurateur and Katy resident Thomas Nguyen, and Au-Yeung couldn’t get the idea out of his head.
“I knew I wanted to open a banh mi shop, but I needed to hire an executive chef to run it,” says Au-Yeung. “The only person I would consider is Cuc Lam. If she wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it,” he says.
“At first I said ‘no’,” laughs Lam, who had patiently been awaiting her next career move after leaving concept Sing. But she knew it was meant to be. “We have a mutual respect for each other as chefs and operate on the same philosophy. The reason we’re in this business is we love to serve people and make people happy. A smile and a ‘thank you’ are why I’ve always done it, and I know Alex feels the same way,” she says.
Banh mi sandwiches will be the flagship of YELO’s menu. Traditional versions will include lemongrass beef (or tofu), pork, chicken, meatball and a cold cut combo, but the duo also wants to leave room for creativity with specialty sandwiches. “Pho-rench Dip,” banh mi served with a side of pho broth and filled with ingredients you’d find in a bowl of pho, is Lam’s Vietnamese take on a French dip. Inspiration from various Southeast Asian cuisines coupled with fresh, local ingredients will lead to fun riffs like beef rendang and Chinese barbecue banh mi.
“YELO is a celebration of Southeast Asian food,” explains Lam. “The color yellow inspires, uplifts, illuminates and offers hope, happiness, cheerfulness and fun. That’s our mission at YELO. Through recipes from countries like Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, we want to share the delicious and bold flavors that we love on a simple baguette.”
Menu offerings will also include vermicelli bowls, Vietnamese egg rolls, spring rolls and shrimp chips, as well as an excellent coffee program with specialties including café sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee), egg coffee and yogurt coffee.
The interior layout and design specifics for the 1500-sq.ft. space are still underway, but Au-Yeung and Lam envision incorporating retro diner elements with wood and fresh, polished details to create a modern Vietnamese diner vibe—and yes, you can expect the color yellow to be prominent. The dining room will combine low, sushi bar-style counter seats with café tables, booths and a coffee bar, but special focus will be on an open kitchen.
“Consulting a lot with food halls, and having worked in that environment, I’ve seen the benefits of seating that allows staff to interact with customers and vice versa,” says Lam, who spent time in the kitchens of Christine Ha’s The Blind Goat and Richard Knight’s Atlas Diner at Bravery Hall, as well as Evelyn Garcia’s KIN at Politan Row. “I also think guests are interested in seeing what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Through their respective projects, both chef-restaurateurs have also aspired to help diners change their perceptions of Asian-American restaurants and the oft-held stereotypical views that they prioritize thriftiness over quality and hospitality. On the contrary, Au-Yeung and Lam take pride in producing meals made with fresh ingredients and fresh ingredients and engaging with their guests to create happy dining experiences. The kitchen will prepare as much as possible in house, from marinating meat to pickling vegetables.
“Our goal is to build a business that will thrive and grow with customers who love you, whom you love, and who love your food,” says Lam.
YELO will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week and offer both counter and table service, with takeaway ordering available. For more details, follow YELO at @yeloHTX on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.