Howard and Anita Hsu grew up living and breathing the restaurant business. As Howard puts it, “Everybody in our family works in restaurants, so it’s in our DNA.” But if running restaurants is in their blood, this brother-sister pair also has put years of hard work into realizing an incredible entrepreneurial vision and creating innovative, delicious food along the way.
Howard and Anita ventured into the restaurant business with Gezzo’s Surf and Grill, which draws on their family’s ties to California and Hawaii to bring West Coast style burritos to the South. Now featuring five locations in the Atlanta area, Gezzo’s is a successful franchise, and Howard and Anita continue to stick to their original mission: using fresh ingredients in innovative, culture-blending dishes.
Innovation is also the name of the game at their restaurant Sweet Auburn Barbecue, which features traditional southern BBQ inflected with flavors and concepts from Howard and Anita’s Asian roots. Lemongrass ribs with a side of green papaya slaw and pimento cheese wontons, anyone?
Cooking barbecue started off as just a hobby for Howard and Anita. Initially, they ran a small barbecue business out of a truck, offering up their smoked meats and delectable sides around town. After frequent appearances at Sweet Auburn Market, however, they were invited to house a permanent location there, took on the name of the market, and have since expanded into another brick-and-mortar spot in Poncey Highlands and mobilized several more Sweet Auburn BBQ food trucks.
Yet Howard and Anita’s commitment to the food truck industry runs deeper than just their Sweet Auburn business. Years ago, they had a dream to open a space that would bring together food trucks from all around Atlanta and from different culinary backgrounds. It would serve as a community gathering spot where people came not just for a delicious meal, but also to listen to live music, buy local goods, and picnic with friends.
In 2012, the entrepreneurial pair realized their vision and opened the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market, located on three acres of land in Atlanta’s revitalized Westside. Now a staple of the neighborhood and a destination for Atlantans and out-of-towners alike, the Park features up to 15 food trucks per day that rotate from dozens of partner trucks. The Park also features a market that sells both produce and locally made wares, as well as art vendors, a weekend farmer’s market, live music, and an array of other events throughout the year.
“Woodward has a standard of excellence, a focus on building personal character, and an emphasis on accomplishing your goals that we really benefited from. It was also a great place to form friendships and be exposed to other great families that helped shape us. Woodward was, is, a huge part of our lives.”
The journey has not been without bumps, or--as in the Food Truck Park’s history--a few gaping potholes that troubled the business early on. But Howard and Anita have found inspiration in the hard work of their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles and credit their family’s restaurant experience and their unending support for helping them get through their businesses’ tougher times.
They also credit their education and their Woodward community. “Woodward established a sense of determination and ambition,” Anita reports. “I learned that my accomplishments would take hard work, which helped me establish character.” Howard adds that at Woodward he had “great exposure to peers who were all as ambitious and driven to succeed as I was.” Woodward, they both agree, was a huge part of their lives that continues to play a role in the Hsu’s success, not only through the friendships and community they cultivated but also through, as Anita puts it, the “standard of excellence, focus on building character, and emphasis on accomplishing your goals” that they learned at Woodward.
What’s next for Howard and Anita? They’re reluctant to reveal their next big idea but assure us they’ve got plenty of wild plans up their sleeve. If past projects are any indication, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on these Woodward alums and whatever they cook up next.