Restaurateur and Chef/Writer Opening An Asian Eatery They Hope Diners Will “SING” About
Longtime Houston restaurateur Jerry Lasco is partnering with local pop-up chef and former Houston Press freelance restaurant critic Cuc Lam on a new eatery named SING. That’s short for “Singapore,” but the duo is also aiming their modern concept to offer customized perks to technically savvy visitors who might “sing” about the food and service on social media. While a specific location has still not been nailed down, they are looking at opening in the Garden Oaks or Oak Forest areas at the end of this coming spring.
Lasco is best known for the businesses he started in Houston: Max’s Wine Dive and The Tasting Room. For Lam’s part, she has built her reputation by showcasing Asian cuisine from multiple countries via pop-ups at bars, including Wooster’s Garden. Lasco says that he was introduced to Lam by their mutual friends who own Peli Peli and found her to be a good match as a business partner willing to do the “heavy lifting” of opening a restaurant and with a passion for Asian cuisine. “It was love at first sight,” joked Lam.
An Asian restaurant might be an unexpected endeavor for a longtime restaurateur best known for wine bars, but Lasco says he loves the cuisine and the variety of cultures. “I took a trip to Asia recently with a good friend of mine and shared that I always wanted to open an Asian restaurant. That was the spark of “Hey, let’s do it.” (SING will be Lasco’s first foray into international cuisine since Tex-Mex restaurant Anejo closed this past April.)
Lasco agreed that some might be surprised about the theme of his latest concept, but says, “I really think of myself as somebody who likes to create things and as an entrepreneur. I’m not a chef, per se, although I’ve studied cooking. Yeah, maybe people will say that but I see myself as creating concepts.”
Lam’s title is “operating partner,” and that means she’s overseeing not just tasks related to opening but also day-to-day aspects of the business, including the menu. She and Lasco chose to name the restaurant after Singapore, not to reflect just one type of cuisine, but to evoke the melting pot of cultures and dishes found in that city, including Vietnamese, Indian, Thai and Chinese.
Menu items include Bak Kut Teh (pork bone tea, a brothy, herbal noodle soup Lam fell in love with on a recent trip to Singapore), Laksa (spicy curry coconut noodle soup), Chicken Tikka Masala and Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodle stir-fry). Lasco says that he and Lam have been testing dishes in his home kitchen and his favorites have been stir-fries, curries (both Indian- and Asian-style) and Dan Dan Noodles.
Lasco and Lam, however, emphasize that SING is about much more than the fare. The restaurant will be geared to leverage what Lasco says is a new paradigm of how diners interact with restaurants via social media. The duo is calling the model “NextGen.”
Regarding how things have changed with how diners interact with restaurants, Lasco says, “First and foremost, it’s from a communications standpoint. The old-school model is you work on the menu, work on the wine list, train your staff as a team and people will come. They have an experience and then they leave. I think when we opened The Tasting Room we did a pretty good job of building an email following. We had a notebook right on the POS [point of sale system] and if you wanted to, you could write down your name and email address and we’d send you a newsletter.”
These days, though, Lasco notes that e-commerce food platforms like Amazon Restaurants and UberEats learns what diners like based on what they’ve ordered in the past and can make recommendations for new dishes they might want to try. Dietary concerns, such as allergies, and even ingredient dislikes can also be noted. That’s a level of detail and service that he and Lam want to emulate at SING.
“We’ve been researching a lot of tools that are CRMs [customer relationship management tools] that work with POSs that can capture information like that. We think our guests would want to share preferences so we can log it in,” says Lam. Diners registering and logging in on the restaurant’s WiFi might accomplish this. Lam also says that with advanced technology like geotagging, the restaurant could even be notified that a diner is on the way and start preparing dishes in advance. Another technology called proximity marketing might notify nearby customers when there are food specials.
In addition, Lasco and Lam want to offer a SING app and build diner loyalty through special events and deals for repeat customers. These might include pop-up dinners, exclusive previews of dishes being considered for the menu and customized being named for a month after a diner who consistently orders it.
Lasco recognizes that customers need incentives to put yet one more app on their phones and says, “Our goal is to make sure that value-add is enough for a tipping point.”
Disclosure: Cuc Lam is the partner of Josh Armendariz, a freelance beverage writer who regularly contributes to Houston Food Finder.