To get to the restaurant, you have to curve off the beaten path. It’s not going to pop out at you from a major roadway. It’s situated deep in the crevices of Milpitas, but once you do arrive there, you’re unlikely to forget it…
The restaurant is Crawdaddy (1228 S Abel St.). The owner is 42-year-old Milpitas resident Thai Nguyen. Twelve years ago, on July 7, 2007 (7-7-07, in true winning slot machine fashion), Nguyen opened the first Crawdaddy over in San Jose. That one took off inside of 6 months. This one’s performed as more of a sleeper, growing slowly yet steadily over the past 4 years.
Anybody who’s been to Crawdaddy likely assumes it’s a powerful local staple. Its environment resonates with confidence and authority. The floors are flat, polished, and sprawling. The walls are plastered with high-definition TVs, radiating crisp colors across the restaurant. In general, upon the screens are sporting events. People often come in to watch the Golden State Warriors play. And don’t forget about the delicious seafood: cooked to order, smoking from the plate, prepared with care and love.
These evident strengths, however, don’t square with Nguyen’s goals for the location, and the Crawdaddy brand itself. He hopes to someday have many locations, either under his own control or that of others — for Crawdaddy to be a franchise. Indeed, the San Jose one’s always hopping. The Milpitas one, in the meantime, has accelerated more in slow-burn fashion…
“It’s been a challenge,” Nguyen shares, citing the restaurant’s status as a “destination” spot. He adds, though: “Over time, it’s growing, it’s getting there…”
He goes on to say, “You gotta be dynamic.” At age 42, he looks easily a decade younger. His speech is rapid, his mind impassioned. He adds, “A lot of great people, and books I’ve read, one of the biggest things I totally live by is, I will persist until I succeed.”
By many measures, he’s succeeded already. Having started out in IT, Nguyen veered into club promotions for around 8 years, where he found himself liking the hospitality and entertainment atmosphere. As a natural next step, he opened his own restaurant. He has no cooking background, strictly a background in promotions. Which is not to say he’s not meticulous about the food:
“We specialize in the boils. Fresh crawfish, fresh mussels, crabs, lobster. Stuff that’s frozen is the shrimp, and the king crab legs…”
“I believe,” he says, “in the finer things in life.”
Nguyen estimates that some 80% of the population doesn’t really know what good food is. It’s like the difference, in his view, between drinking regular beer and upgrading to craft beer: “Ignorance is bliss.”
Until you’re not ignorant anymore.
This theme of the “finer things” runs deep within Crawdaddy’s spirit. It’s not only apparent in the refinement of the space itself; it also shows up in the restaurant’s name…
Back in ‘07, when the SJ spot opened, the joke “Who’s your daddy?” was still in strong circulation, along with other staples like “Talk to the hand.” Nguyen was slinging around such lines with a friend when she suggested the name “Crawdaddy.”
In the beginning, Nguyen was even prone to using the line “Who’s your Crawdaddy?”
The message being: This place is the daddy — the king — of all crawfish restaurants. The cream, the top.
The place to be.
The restaurant is 6,000 square feet, complete with a VIP room containing an 85-inch screen of its own, fit for birthday parties and other events, and able to host 25 to 30 people at a time. Soon, Nguyen will be bringing in a bar, which he anticipates will amp up the presence of the sport-viewing crowd. As he brings the bar in, he’ll be upgrading the VIP room, as well.
Where does Nguyen get all this drive? Why does he keep pushing, past the point when others might have turned their chips in and quit? He provides a little bit of personal info:
“My parents are divorced,” he says. “My mom raised three kids by herself. I’m the eldest.” Then he states the mentality of the eldest: “Break bread and take care of the family.”
In other words: Be a leader. Provide. Show up. Be strong.
And in Nguyen’s case, be the Crawdaddy.
1228 S Abel St.
Milpitas, CA 95035