Last March, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Binh Vo took a risk. He and his business partners eschewed traditional logic and pushed forward with purchasing their first restaurant, The Happy Hooligans, a vegan comfort food eatery in San Jose. Vo and his partners saw an opportunity and jumped on it with the idea they could quickly pivot to a takeout only model that was scalable for multiple storefronts, including a location in Santa Clara.
“The restaurant was one storefront with no plans on expanding,” said Vo. “We already had in mind opening up multiple locations when we started … When we came in, the food was good. They had built a small name for themselves and we saw opportunity in this market and we think it will keep going. The future is sustainable foods, not just vegan foods, but sustainable.”
After switching The Happy Hooligans business model to focus solely on takeout, Vo said he and his partners were able to quickly open the Santa Clara location on Lafayette Street in September of last year with a revamped menu that incorporated fewer salads and more items familiar to carnivores.
“We realized most people who are hesitant to try [vegan food] was because they didn’t want to leave behind those keystone, comfort foods they enjoy,” said Vo. “We planned to make something people already closely tied themselves to, but just vegan … We want to make good food. Period. We want to make good food and appeal to people who are interested in eating good food. We love getting a reaction from people who are trying vegan food for the first time and enjoying it. We’re all about showing people that there’s good food everywhere and it doesn’t have to have meat.”
Vo said non-vegans looking to ease themselves into vegan food, should consider ordering the buffalo cauliflower bites as a starter and his favorite burger, the Red Rooster — a vegan patty topped with nacho jalapenos, mozzarella, lettuce, onion rings, spicy sauce and ranch on a sesame bun — or the most popular burger, the Backyard BBQ — a vegan patty topped with all-vegan toppings of macaroni and cheese, shredded mozzarella, soy bacon, fried onion rings and bbq sauce on a sesame bun.
“Most people, after taking their first bite, they kind of forget they’re at a vegan place,”’ said Vo. “They come in with the mentality that it’s going to be different but once they try it, it’s reminiscent of something they’ve had. It’s very familiar and they tell me they forget it’s a vegan concept.”
Vo said he and his team are already in the process of opening a third location in Berkeley and are currently working on a recipe for a vegan cheesecake to add to the eatery’s mix of dessert options. Additionally, Vo said he and his team are working on a number of initiatives, like the free meals for kids campaign the restaurant sponsored in November, and ways they can give back to the Santa Clara community.
The Happy Hooligans is at 1686 Lafayette Street, near El Camino Real in Santa Clara and 1711 Branham Lane #A9 in San Jose. Visit www.happy-hooligans.com for more information.