HOUSTON CHRONICLE

By Danny Perez
February 27, 2003
A new feel to Old Chinatown
Restaurant owner fulfills longtime ambition

Former flight attendant Jenni Tran-Weaver, owner of Jenni's Noodle House, 2130 Jefferson, traded in her wings for a wok when Continental Airlines gave her the option of taking a 12-month furlough following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Classic Michael Jackson tunes wafting from the in-house sound system and wait staff wearing T-shirts with clever statements on them are good indicators that Jenni's Noodle House, 2130 Jefferson is not your typical Old Chinatown eatery. Then neither is the person behind the restaurant. Jenni Tran-Weaver, a flight attendant with Continental Airlines by trade, faced an unknown future as the airline industry was hit hard following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Given the option of taking a 12-month furlough, Weaver decided to use the opportunity to fulfill a longtime ambition of becoming a restaurateur. It was a perfect situation - she could keep her health and flight benefits, and get the time off needed to start her own business. From there on the uncertainty became less murky.

From her trips to cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Vancouver, Tran-Weaver noticed the absence of a "great noodle house" in Houston. "Lacking a great noodle house is a terrible thing," she said. She decided it was time to end the noodle famine. She and her husband, Scott Weaver, threw in some eccentric ambiance for effect, and great food at reasonable prices. "The restaurant just has its own offbeat, cool little vibe going," Tran-Weaver said. "Having been a waitress and huge supporter of eating out, I made up this restaurant from a little of all (my) previous experiences." Jenni's Noodle House, specializing in noodle and soup dishes, premiered last May and its customer base has been growing since.

Rather then breaking down food items by dish type, Tran-Weaver offers "$3 steals, $5 deals, and $7 meals". Witty names for dishes such as Art Car Curry, Disco Dumplings, and Sexy Salad, and common fare such as fried rice and lemon grass beef make up her menu. Tran-Weaver's keen ability to whip up good eats stems from her youth, she was born in Nha Trang, South Vietnam, and migrated to Houston with her family - including seven brothers and sisters. She said she learned to cook out of her mother's kitchen. "It's what we ate everyday growing up," she said.

The food industry was not her first career choice, though. She attended the University of Texas in Austin and took up residence in that city where she began a successful real estate career. Upon returning to Houston in 1996, Tran-Weaver worked a few jobs before landing a position at Barnaby's on West Gray. This also was the time she began working with Continental Airlines. Tran-Weaver said the timing was right when she took the temporary leave of absence. However, she was warned that her selection of the Old Chinatown neighborhood for her new place was not ideal. "Many told me the area was doomed and the neighboring restaurants would squash me like a little bug," she said. " The price was right, the area was close to home and I like being on the wrong side of the tracks." Confronted with this possible pitfall, Tran-Weaver knew she needed a game plan that would win the hearts of starving individuals from all over the city, especially neighboring downtown. Along with the pink flamingos that guard the entrance of the restaurant and the black-and-white photos she took on a trip to her homeland on the walls, Tran-Weaver hosts "Feather Boa Night" and "Celebrity Night." On Friday evenings, patrons and restaurant employees are urged to don a feather boa and - on certain nights- a local celebrity takes to waiting tables in the name of charity. She said the events "give the customers something to talk about ant (to) tell their friends when the leave."

Tran-Weaver plans on returning to the skies while doubling as the driving force behind Jenni's Noodle House. She was originally given a year leave but it has been extended until May 2004.

For more information on Jenni and her noodle house go to www.noodlehouse.com

 

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