An illustration of a boat on a postcard reading "Greetings from Rockport+Fulton"
Illustration: Michael Crampton

For Laura Brown, running a restaurant in the Gulf Coast community of Rockport-Fulton is all about building and rebuilding. Since she was a teenager in the 1990s, she has worked at Hu-Dat, a favorite spot for Asian food and an anchor of the local Vietnamese community. Brown became part of the Hu-Dat family when she married her childhood sweetheart, Binh Nguyen, and the couple took over the restaurant from Nguyen’s parents in 2013. In 2017, Brown and Nguyen, who have two children, opened Benchwarmers in the same building as Hu-Dat. The sports pub quickly became a popular stop for locals along with the retirees, sport fishermen, and birdwatchers who flock to Aransas Bay on vacation. Just months later, Hurricane Harvey destroyed Hu-Dat and damaged Benchwarmers. Brown and Nguyen reopened Benchwarmers within a few months, serving free food to emergency responders. But it took two years to rebuild Hu-Dat, which reopened late last year. Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced both restaurants to shutter temporarily (both have reopened). After all that, “I’m not building another restaurant,” Brown says with a tired laugh. But she’s happy to run the ones she has.

We Are Family

“I love this town. I was born and raised here. We know our customers. I love the fact that they can come in and we already know what they want. It just feels like family. The community—the way that everybody came together after Harvey and helped us out—I want to be a part of that. I would never want to be away from that.”

Young Love

“Binh and I were in the same grade, and we had the same friends. We were in eighth grade when we actually hung out, and for some reason he was able to drive his dad’s shrimper truck to school—he didn’t have a license or anything—and after school he would take me to Dairy Queen. We’ve been together since.”

The Hu-Dat Name

“Binh’s parents worked so hard to build up that name and give good food, and that’s what brought everybody in. We took over
Hu-Dat, but Mom and Dad were still in the kitchen, so the food was still going to be the same. We learned a lot from them. When we took over, it was scary, but we knew people were going to come because Binh’s parents put out a good name in the town.”

Rockport Strong

“Seeing the [hurricane] damage, that’s a feeling that I don’t even know if I can describe. That’s our livelihood; it’s our home. It was really heartbreaking. There was really nothing we could do but come back and clean up and rebuild. ‘Rockport Strong’ means we all come
together and help each other out no matter what. I already see that support now with COVID-19. When we rebuilt Hu-Dat, I had it really big on the wall, ‘Rockport Strong.’ And on the Benchwarmers side of the restaurant, we have it in chalk in there too. When people see it, I think they feel like family, and they feel comfortable and that we’re all in this together.”

Location, Location, Location

“We have a really nice, clean beach. If you want to go fishing or go run near the water, we have that option. It’s literally a minute down the street. I love that we’re a tourist town. We have regulars that don’t live here and just come down during the summer, and we know them like they’re born and raised here.”

The Next Generation

“We grew up in the restaurant business. My kids grew up in the restaurant business. Even our young nieces and nephews are like, ‘I can’t wait until I can come down and work.’ It’s exciting because that’s our life. It’s good to see them excited about it. Our nieces and nephews, some of them who live in Houston will come for the summer and work. My brother- and sister-in-law say, ‘Put them to work.’ So, when they come down, they go to work, and I pay them, and they love it—well, that’s what they say.”

Town Trivia

Population:
12,000

Number of Stoplights:
13

Year founded:
1866

Nearest City:
Corpus Christi, 33 miles south

Marquee Events:
Rockport Art Festival, July 4-5;
HummerBird Celebration, Sept. 17-20;
Rockport Film Festival, Nov. 12-15

Map it:

From the July 2020 issue


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The July 2020 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, Secret Rivers


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