Living Magazine: Piranha Killer Sushi So Much More Than a Great Place to Dine by Pamela Hammond

  • August, 2011
  • Flower Mound

I’m always up for trying something new, so when Piranha Killer Sushi opened up recently, I was immediately intrigued. I wrangled up a buddy, who was also a sushi novice, to join me and we made our way to see if this restaurant lived up to its intriguing name.

We were greeted by the lovely Hanh who recommended several dishes and had Sandy bring us a couple of fun drinks to get us started. From our first drink to our last bite, we enjoyed not only the great service but the delicious, fresh food—mouthwatering, fabulous and with so much we didn’t get to sample, we’re both ready to go back–especially to enjoy the live entertainment on the patio during the weekends.

But there’s more to this restaurant than just the amazing service and mouth-watering menu fare. Behind it all is man with a self-made success story: Chef Kenzo Tran. He told me his story and gave me permission to share it with you.

As a very young boy, Kenzo and his family were put on a boat his father constructed and attempted to escape out of Vietnam after the war. They didn’t make it very far.“We were caught and put into prison,” Kenzo said. The children and his mother were

released, but his father was held for several years. While his father was imprisoned, Kenzo’s uncle was busy planning his own escape. Unbeknownst to six-year-old Kenzo, when his mother sent him to his uncle’s house “for a visit,” she was giving her son a chance at a new life in America—one without her or his father and siblings.

“It took us two years, but we made it to Texas to live with my grandfather,” Kenzo said. As a small child, Kenzo cooked and cleaned while his grandfather and uncle worked.“My job was to take care of the house.”

Having free range of the kitchen allowed Kenzo to hone his cooking skills—although back then he didn’t really appreciate it– and by the age of 17, he left the only family he knew. He eventually landed in south Florida in 1995 and found a job. At a restaurant. Washing dishes.“It was what I knew how to do,” he said.“But washing dishes at home was a chore—at a restaurant, it was my job.”

During his stint at the restaurant, he discovered his passion.“It hit me right away that I could be a chef and start my own business. I felt right at home.”

Kenzo worked his way up in a variety of restauants—from         sushi to Italian. “ I read   a lot to make up for my lack of education—motivational books, business and investing books, information about stocks and trading,” he said. For the next six years, he managed to establish a name for himself, a sizeable savings and a good credit rating.“I knew I’d need funds to start my own restaurant.”

Kenzo returned to Texas in 2001. “As a teenager, I didn’t appreciate what my grandfather had taught me,” he said.“Now I think, thank God he taught me to work hard and value what I have along with disci- pline and self-control.”

That discipline led to Kenzo opening his first restau- rant in North Arlington– a sushi restaurant with a great name, unfortunately one that belonged to another restaurant. “ We        had  to      change     our  name and I lost investors and customers,” Kenzo said. “But we reopened as Piranha Killer Sushi and pulled through.”

Today, five Piranha Killer Sushi restaurants—from Arlington to Austin—serve up tasty fare every day, with one opening this year in San Antonio. “Our sushi chefs have the skills to make great sushi but also the personalities to interact with the customers.” You’ll find fun, approachable tropical print-wearing pros who aren’t afraid to chop and chat.“We know families are watchful of their money,” Kenzo said,“so we make sure everyone has a good experience.”

Now a United States citizen, Kenzo Tran has realized the American Dream as the owner of a multi-million

dollar restaurant company with about 200 employees.“I don’t wash the dishes any more, but I do clean my own table after I eat—I don’t expect my team to clean up after me,” Kenzo said.“I’m not above them, I’m with them. Now I feel a responsibility to my team, my family— those who work with me. As Piranha Killer Sushi grows, my employees can move up and get promoted.”

That loyalty also translates to how Kenzo feels about his customers and the community in which they live. “We support each place where we have a restaurant,” he said.“For example, on opening night, we give the proceeds to a local organization that impacts the community.” In Flower Mound, Christian Community Action (CCA) benefitted from Piranha’s generosity.

While Kenzo’s grandfather passed away in 2004, he did live to see his grandson become a success.“He was very proud of me,” he said.“He’s always been proud of me.”

And what about the family he left behind in Vietnam? I had to ask.“I petitioned for my mom and dad to get their citizenship and found out today they got their interview,” Kenzo said.“An old boss said managing is like fathering and that stuck in my head. You have to be a good leader for your team to respect you, to listen and to follow.”

In closing, Kenzo told me,“If God gives you a talent to build a business that helps the community and provides jobs and you don’t use that talent, then I think that’s selfish. I feel a spiritual responsibility on my end to provide like a father—even though I’m not one yet.”