Mary Phongvilakoun and Dennis Benavides blend their love of the traditional and the unique at Drunkn’ NoodleZ Asian Restaurant and, their latest venture, Stay Fit Foods CC.
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Edgar de la Garza
Mary Phongvilakoun and Dennis Benavides really love food – specifically good food. The self-professed foodies walked away from careers to open Drunkn’ NoodleZ at 4214 S. Alameda St. in Corpus Christi several years ago and have never looked back.
“My parents owned China Doll here in Corpus Christi and then Bangkok Garden in Ingleside,” Phongvilakoun says. “We were working at our careers – Dennis was working in the wireless business, and I was working in banking – when he told me one day that he was always interested in getting into the restaurant business. I told him I had always wanted to go back to it, and we decided it was time to open our own.”
Mom came out of retirement and helped the couple create a menu featuring the Thai dishes she grew up cooking for Mary as a little girl. Phongvilakoun and Benavides love sushi, and so sushi made its way onto the menu, as well. “I’m just not an office worker; I love to interact with people and move around,” Phongvilakoun says. “And also, we just enjoy serving food to people that satisfies them. People love our food. It’s fresh, fresh, fresh. So when they leave, their palate is happy, and they are happy. It’s much better than an office job.”
They are doing what they love, but the couple admits it’s been hard work. They have three children, aged 13, 12 and 5, and Phongvilakoun remembers standing at the sushi bar rolling sushi in heels the day before she gave birth to her youngest. But it’s not work when you enjoy it. “This is my forte – what I grew up eating,” she says. “I love eating healthy foods; my parents always cooked balanced meals with carbs, veggies and protein. Also I love the flavor of my mom’s food, so everything we do comes from the heart. Also, I love rolling sushi; there’s a crazy artistic side to me that enjoys doing it.”
When asked what their favorite dish is at the restaurant, the couple disagrees. Phongvilakoun’s ultimate favorite is the yellow Thai curry, while Benavides prefers the sushi, most particularly the OMG roll, which was named after his best friend, Jeff Kane (this really is a neighborhood restaurant!).
The next step for Phongvilakoun and Benavides is a new venture: Stay Fit Foods. The couple, who enjoy being part of the fitness community in Corpus Christi, have launched Stay Fit Foods as a way for athletes, people focused on healthy eating and even parents and others to have quick access to “clean,” nutritious foods without having to cook them at home.
“Restaurant foods tend to have added fat and sodium that people focused on their health want to avoid, but doing meal prep for every day, week in and week out, can get tedious,” Phongvilakoun says. “So we launched Stay Fit Foods to give people the option to order food from us that consists of lean protein, complex grains and vegetables without any hidden fat or sodium, just as if they had prepped it at home, but without having to do it themselves. We also don’t use any processed food or unnatural ingredients, and we flavor it with ginger and other fresh spices and herbs so that it is delicious without the added fat or salt.”
Now they plan to offer the foods at local gyms, as well as to allow customers to message them on Facebook or call to place an order, which customers can pick up from the store at a specified time.
Phongvilakoun, who is the third generation in her family to open a restaurant, considers Drunkn’ NoodleZ and Stay Fit Foods CC the next evolution in the business for her family. “My grandmother owned a restaurant in Laos, catering to the American and French on the military base there,” she says. “When she served curry in a bowl with French bread, customers went nuts. It was innovative food for them, and [we] are continuing that tradition today.”
Benavides says his favorite thing about coming to work every day is working with the customers, helping them choose something innovative to eat, “mixing it up – keeping them doing something different. They’ve become like family to us.”
He adds that one of the most popular and exciting things they’ve done is put craft beers on draft in the bar. Three Asian beers, three Belgian beers and the most popular, Fruli Strawberry Beer, are all appreciated by the customers. Saki bombs with the Fruli beer are, according to Benavides, untraditional, but absolutely delicious – and one-of-a-kind.
These two foodies have brought their love of their traditional food and creativity in creating new and innovative foods to their hometown, and in the process, they have become their own food tradition.
For more information about Drunkn’ NoodleZ, visit www.dncorpus.com, check them out on Facebook, call 361-992-1400 or stop by the store at 4214 S. Alameda. And to learn more about Stay Fit Foods CC, find them on Facebook at Stay Fit Foods CC.