Brad and Vanessa Downey love Asian cuisine so much, they have a commercial wok in their Tyler home.
Cooking is a hobby for the family, and the kitchen is their favorite room in the house. "We cook all the time," said Mrs. Downey, 41.
The couple plans to open Three Z Azian Cuizine, their second restaurant venture, on June 15.
At the time they installed the wok in their kitchen, they were regular patrons of the now defunct Julian's Asian Diner. They asked if they could watch the chefs work and were graciously invited to the kitchen to pitch in and learn the art, Mrs. Downey said. About six months later, they became a partner in the restaurant.
Together with Jay Schulz, they remodeled Julian's and revamped the menu in 2009. After about two years, they stepped aside to focus on their primary jobs.
Becoming part owner of Julian's was the first food business venture for the couple. Since Julian's closing, the Downeys are planning to open Three Z Azian Cuizine, where Julian's once stood in Time Square shopping center.
When Mrs. Downey earned a degree in community health from Texas A&M University, food and nutrition were a big part of her studies. She became a pharmaceutical rep and worked in Houston until she was promoted to Tyler in 2000. After four years here, she was moved to New Orleans and had been there about 10 months when Hurricane Katrina hit. The storm left nothing of her business' clients.
Katrina "swept us back to Tyler," where her company found another job for her, she said, adding that it was a "nice, safe place to come back to." Her husband, whom she met in college, is a manufacture's rep in the outdoor industry. They have been married 16 years and have an 8-year-old daughter.
When FRESH by Brookshire's opened, Mrs. Downey wrote blogs and coffee talks, held cooking demonstrations and even served on its advisory board in 2013.
At home, they cook from scratch, eat organic and stick to a mostly plant-based diet. Their love of food runs in the family. Their daughter, Ryann, takes cooking classes. "We're trying to make a little chef out of her," she said.
When coming up with the name — Three Z Azian Cuizine — they wanted to use the unique spelling and added "three z" because of the three family members.
Mrs. Downey said they thought of several restaurant concepts and were discussing opening a sandwich shop when they got a call late last year about the vacant space that formerly housed Julian's.
"We shifted gears and said, ‘Sure, let's go for it,'" she said.
They have been renovating the space since February. At the fast-casual restaurant, customers will place their order at counters where the bar once was, grab a drink and sit down, where their meal will be served to them. It will have a grab-and-go section, where people can get ready-made salads and other dishes, and will offer beer and wine.
"We will be offering new and exotic selections from all regions of Asia, but also want our customers to know that as former partners in Julian's, we can be counted on to deliver the favorites they have grown to love and crave over the past decade," Mrs. Downey said.
The menu will have some of Julian's popular dishes, including the Mongolian beef, spicy chicken and edamame. They also will infuse flavors from Thailand, Vietnam and other regions and will put a healthier spin on some of the dishes. Head chef Ismael Rodriguez also will cook vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items.
Andrew Griffith, 28, general manager, said they are all such "foodies" with large ambitions, but they want to start with a smaller menu to focus on quality. Once they are established, they will play with recipes more and get responses from customers.
They plan to add more coffee and tea options and would like to start packaging their own dressings and sauces for sale. They also will offer catering, family meal and diet-specific meal plans and a variety of beverages, including teas, coffees, fresh juices, smoothies and shakes, Mrs. Downey said.
They will start out with about 30 employees, Griffith said. They will be closed Sundays at first but plan to open seven days a week eventually.
Mrs. Downey said they have found nothing like Three Z in the market. They hope to grow it with additional locations and are already looking at properties in other markets, she added.