Pyburn’s Farm Fresh Foods on Fondren Road in Houston plans to celebrate the store’s 10th anniversary this year with some renovations and by showing appreciation to the community.
Loan Couch, general manager, is among the family members who oversee one of the 11 Pyburn’s stores. Nine of them are in Houston, while the other two locations are in nearby Anahuac and Texas City.
The first store was opened in 1994 by John Vuong, Couch’s uncle, who had left Vietnam as a teenager years earlier in search of new opportunities in the U.S., according to the company’s website.
“With support from the community, Vuong journeyed to Utah, where he earned his associate degree and began his career at a firm that designed and manufactured semiconductors. Fortuitously, John left Utah in 1985 and returned to Houston, where he worked as a commercial fisherman and, most importantly, met his wife and best friend, Kheo,” it reads.
Twenty-eight years ago, John and Kheo combined their savings with loans from family to buy their first grocery store, a 7,500-square-foot Bi-Rite in Freeport on Houston’s east side, according to the website.
“With the unwavering support of their wholesale supplier, Houston-based Grocers Supply Co. Inc., the Vuongs have grown their business by purchasing 10 additional stores that serve Houston’s low- to moderate-income families.”
Couch knows the challenges of entrepreneurship, so her store has always played its part to help get local vendor products on shelves.
“It’s always been in me that I need to help other vendors…some of the big box stores, they have to have certain criteria in order for them to be represented or brought up onto their shelves,” Couch said.
She cited the example of Güzel Cakes, founded by local resident Giselle Hauser. The cakes appeared on Pyburn’s shelves within the business’ first month of operation. They eventually expanded to the other Pyburn’s locations.
Reflecting on those early years, Hauser said she also had the opportunity to work with H-E-B, but was not prepared to do so at the time. However, that changed as of Sept. 21, 2021, and her products can now be found at more than 50 H-E-B locations. They also will be added to Joe V’s and Central Market locations, two other divisions of the company.
“I think it’s a really good platform for vendors to come in and showcase their product,” Hauser said about her relationship with Pyburn’s. “It’s solely up to you to do the work, to get people excited about your product.”
Although Hauser is now working with larger grocers, she plans to always work with Pyburn’s.
“We just developed a really good relationship that turned into a friendship,” Hauser said. “[Loan] helped me a lot as far as just being a good influence and a steady motivator for me.”
Through word of mouth, Pyburn’s has established a reputation of offering a variety of specialty meat products. The stores are known for their dirty rice, which customers like to bring to family gatherings.
“During the holidays, especially during Thanksgiving, is when we’ll have lines outside the door,” Couch said.
“It’s a whole plethora of meat items that you can’t find in big box stores…we really don’t do much advertisement. Our best advertising is always word of mouth. We’re a small mom and pop store located in different areas of Houston. And the demographics are more toward the African-American community.”
According to Couch, the supply chain for Pyburn’s has proven to be a “very difficult challenge” as customers adjust to buying different items.
“We’re trying the best that we can…for example, in our meat market, we do sliced deli meats. And one of the popular items that customers love is Hormel summer sausage. Hormel has not been producing that for months now. I have calls every single day, ‘When are y’all getting that in?’”
For more information, visit pyburnswatkins.com.