Meet Paul Tran, a man with two titles and two different jobs at two different companies. He’s senior director of development at Fransmart, a franchise-development firm that has helped to thrust brands such as Five Guys into the national spotlight. He is also COO of Halal or Nothing, the Southern California franchisee of the Halal Guys, one of the hottest food brands around if you were to judge it by the four-hour-long lines it saw when it opened in a Costa Mesa strip mall a few months ago. But you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Tran and his Halal Guys partners have even bigger plans. They intend to open a Halal Guys restaurant in every SoCal city so it will eventually become a part of every community. The goal is 50 stores in 10 years. And to that end, Tran is already hard at work. A typical day for Tran starts at 4 a.m. and involves a lot of deal making, location scouting and putting together strong management teams for future stores.
Before his two jobs, Tran owned and operated Cajun Corner, a seafood joint he opened in 2005 in Westminster. It was the opportunity to start this restaurant that made Tran—then a Long Beach State student in marketing—change course. He decided he couldn’t focus on both his studies and the business, so he left school one semester shy of graduation and threw himself fully into his restaurant. Tran sold Cajun Corner at a profit three years later, but it was an encounter with Fransmart in 2006 that made him realize he wanted to join the firm.
Tran has been with Fransmart since, helping mom-and-pops expand into franchising. But when the Halal Guys came on as a client, it was different. “I knew I couldn’t just stand by and be on the sideline,” Tran says. “I wanted to be part of their growth.”
The reason was simple. He was a fan. “I’d be at the Halal Guys three or four times every time I went to New York,” he admits, referring to the original Manhattan cart. “I was addicted to the food; that white sauce is everything!”
Most important, he saw its potential. “There hasn’t been a strong segment leader within the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food segment,” he says.
In answer to the standard what’s-in-the-five-year-plan question, he says, “I want to keep growing not only the Halal Guys in a Fransmart capacity, but also the rest of Fransmart’s portfolio, including the Pie Hole and Slapfish, and identify new brands to advise for.”
Despite global aspirations, Tran has always been a local boy. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, his family moved to Santa Ana when he was 7, and he graduated from Saddleback High School. Now 33, Tran lives in Irvine with his wife and two young kids. As a devout Christian, he devotes much of his free time to Operation Christmas Child, preparing and packing shoeboxes with toys, school supplies and personal items to send to children in developing nations. He says it is one of his family’s most important priorities. “We put together 600 boxes last year, and this year, we’re going to try to double that,” Tran says proudly.
When he’s not helping to spread the word of Christ and the Halal Guys, Tran is indulging a major sweet tooth, with Afters Ice Cream being a favorite. “I have 14 cavities and two root canals to prove it.”
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.