Interview with Xay Senephoumy, February 18, 2022

Dublin Core


Interview with Xay Senephoumy, February 18, 2022


Asian Americans
Cooking, American
Cooking Lao
Grocer, Asian American







Oral History Item Type Metadata


Betsy Brody


Xay Senephoumy

OHMS Object Text

5.4 Interview with Xay Senephoumy, February 18, 2022 2021oh002_di_006 01:13:27 ohdi Digging In di001 How Food, Culture, and Class Shaped Asian Dallas Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans This project is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship. Asian Americans Texas--History Cooking, American Cooking Lao Grocer, Asian American Xay Senephoumy Betsy Brody m4a oh_audio_dig_senephoumy_xay_20220218.m4a 1:|14(7)|24(12)|36(2)|50(5)|76(1)|93(8)|145(6)|157(6)|169(4)|180(7)|209(1)|237(1)|253(7)|266(7)|281(11)|290(7)|304(8)|314(9)|327(11)|344(9)|353(6)|366(7)|380(8)|411(13)|424(9)|452(4)|467(4)|477(14)|489(15)|502(1)|538(7)|551(4)|562(7)|572(9)|584(3)|598(2)|616(15)|629(7)|651(2)|666(4)|676(12)|685(11)|711(10)|723(3)|756(4)|764(5)|774(2)|787(8)|797(6)|810(12)|820(8)|828(6)|841(14)|849(14)|859(2)|876(13)|907(2)|928(4)|936(14) 0 Aviary audio 4 Introduction Asian American grocers ; Asian Americans ; Cooking, American ; Cooking, Lao ; Texas--History 35 Moving to the United States from Laos Colorado ; Houston ; Laos ; Nebraska ; Texas 235 Arriving in Dallas in 2000/ Opening Nalinh Market Asian grocery ; business ; chewing tobacco ; community ; Dallas ; family run restaurant ; grocer store ; hub ; laab ; Lao ; Lao food ; Laotian ; Laotian community ; Laotian food ; larb ; Nalinh Market ; papaya salad ; sticky rice ; Taco Bell ; vegetables 32.81330398611661, -96.9237610554398 17 631 Lao community in Dallas culture ; diverse ; diversity ; Lao ; Lao New Year ; Lao Temple ; Laos ; Laotion community ; New Year ; Rockwall Temple ; Saginaw Temple 893 Beginning to serve food at Nalinh Market advertising ; Asian grocery ; business ; customers ; food ; grocery store ; house party ; hub ; Irving ; kitchen ; landlord ; Lao ; Lao food ; Laos ; Laotian community ; license ; permit ; racism ; social media ; sourcing ; street food ; Thai ; vegetables ; veterans ; word of mouth ; Yelp 2058 Opening Saap Saap and the impact of COVID business ; COVID ; curbside ; Lao ; Laotian food ; marketing ; Nalinh Market ; pandemic ; pivot ; Saap Saap ; shutdown ; takeout ; training 2606 Reflections on the concept of &quot ; authenticity&quot ; and ethnic food authentic ; authenticity ; ethnic food ; Hunan beef ; orange chicken ; palate ; Taco Bell ; upscale ; western palate 2888 Food as a tool to educate and connect/ Nalinh Market as a community hub bridge ; community ; connect ; connection ; culture ; curiousity ; educate ; education ; food ; hub ; Lao community ; Lao culture ; Laos ; respect ; word of mouth 3415 Future of Lao food in Dallas authentic ; authenticity ; Bon Appetit ; Dallas ; diverse ; diversity ; educate ; education ; immigrant ; Lao ; Laos ; Laotian food ; Laotian restaurants ; neighborhood ; palate ; Restaurant City of the Year ; Saap Saap ; Thai food 3886 Senephoumy's mother's background cooking ; food ; Lao ; Laos ; Laotian ; refugee ; refugee camp |00:00:04| BRODY This is Betsy Brody. Today is February 18, 2022. I am interviewing for the first time Mr. Xay Senephoumy. This interview is taking place in my home office in Richardson, Texas. This interview is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship and as part of the project entitled &quot ; Digging In: How Food, Culture, and Class Shaped the Story of Asian Dallas.&quot ; All right, Xay, thank you so much for meeting me and sitting for this interview. Let&#039 ; s just start out real quickly with where and when were you born? |00:00:39| SENEPHOUMY I was born 3rd of February 1979 capital city of Laos at the trail end of the, during the trail end of the Southeast Asian conflict in Vientiane, Laos. |00:00:59| BRODY What brought you to Texas? |00:01:01| SENEPHOUMY What brought me to Texas? That&#039 ; s a long story. In short, I came to America. My parents came to America when I was about a year and a half, less than two years old. I think we landed in Houston, stayed in Houston for two or three years or whatnot, bounced around between Grand Island, Nebraska and the Greeley, Colorado area, maybe for the next couple of years. By the time I was five or kindergarten, something like that ended up going to New Britain, Connecticut, where I was raised. Until I think fifth grade. I moved out to a podunk town called Grand Island, Nebraska, graduated high school there had to get out of there as soon as possible. We moved out to the closest Metro- Denver- and stayed there for about two years and ended up here in in the Dallas area in about the year 2000. And I&#039 ; d been here pretty much since then. Have moved a couple of places while I was here, but I always ended up back here. |00:02:25| BRODY What was your family doing that you were moving to all these places? |00:02:28| SENEPHOUMY Um, you could kind of compare them to migrant workers. They just went to, you know, they weren&#039 ; t formally educated in the U.S. So they just went wherever the work was. And that&#039 ; s how the Laotian community was at the time. If one family hears about one job somewhere, they... They would ask if there&#039 ; s other positions available for the other 20 people they know and we would just follow. We&#039 ; re like migrating herd. Any kind of work, really factory work. I remember my mom doing. She was working for an electronic or electrical coil wire manufacturing company in Connecticut. She was doing the assembly line for that. And then after that, most of the Asian communities at the time ended up going to places like Kansas and Nebraska to work the slaughterhouses- slaughter cows. |00:03:34| BRODY Right. So you mentioned your mom. How large was the family that you were, your immediate family? |00:03:40| SENEPHOUMY My immediate family was pretty small, consisted of mom, my older sister and I, and every once in a while, dad would that would pop up in and out of the picture. Yeah. So three or four of us consistently. |00:03:55| BRODY OK. So you, you all ended up in Dallas around 2000. What was going on then? What did you do then? |00:04:02| SENEPHOUMY 2000. What I did, I was, was trying to find myself. I was young. Two years in a college. I left college because I wanted to work and hang out. I wasn&#039 ; t sure who I was. So my ah, my parents, my mom and stepdad bought a little- they purchased a little grocery store down here, a little convenience store that was owned by another Laotian family. And I wasn&#039 ; t really doing much in Denver, so they asked me if I wanted to come and help with the family business and I came down. |00:04:39| BRODY So they bought the grocery store. And so it was all- it was- what was it called? Oh, do you remember? |00:04:46| SENEPHOUMY I don&#039 ; t remember the name of it. |00:04:49| BRODY But they were already serving the... |00:04:51| SENEPHOUMY No, definitely not. |00:04:52| BRODY OK. |00:04:52| SENEPHOUMY Serving food? |00:04:53| BRODY No, serving the Laotian community? Or was there a Laotian community? |00:04:56| SENEPHOUMY Yes, there&#039 ; s Dallas. At the time that my parents moved here, where Dallas was probably, probably still is the biggest Laotian community in America. |00:05:07| BRODY Oh, really? Yeah. Why do you think that is? |00:05:11| SENEPHOUMY Business opportunities, cost of living? And I think because we&#039 ; re jungle people, you know, we can take the heat. I can&#039 ; t, but they can. |00:05:25| BRODY That&#039 ; s funny. So, OK, so the grocery store, they bought it. Your mom and stepdad. And...Tell me about what that was like when they first started. |00:05:34| SENEPHOUMY Oh, when they first started, it was just a little like bodega type, little grocery store- sold veggies and imported goods that that were hard to find in the bigger Vietnamese super, super grocery stores. |00:05:51| BRODY What kind of things? |00:05:55| SENEPHOUMY Maybe some clothing, some special like wicker imports that we would use to- like kitchen utensils, things to cook with and whatnot. And it&#039 ; s funny. One of the big things that you can&#039 ; t find at other stores that the older ladies, they, they chew this like chewing tobacco or that type of thing. And we sold that where most places wouldn&#039 ; t. So at the time in Irving, there was a there was a older Laotian community and we were the place to serve the older generations. |00:06:40| BRODY What is that? Chewing tobacco called? |00:06:43| SENEPHOUMY In our language and you can look it up...Yeah, we call it &quot ; chian maak&quot ; which literally translates to chewing, &quot ; chewing plants&quot ; |00:06:55| BRODY Chewing plants. |00:06:56| SENEPHOUMY But it&#039 ; s it... |00:07:00| BRODY It was a big seller. |00:07:01| SENEPHOUMY Yeah, it&#039 ; s...I&#039 ; m trying not to laugh because unless you&#039 ; ve seen it before, you&#039 ; d understand, well, why, why I&#039 ; m giggling. 80 year old ladies chewing tobacco. Their mouths are fuller than any cowboy you&#039 ; ve seen around here. And they don&#039 ; t have a spitting cup, you know, they&#039 ; re just right there. Big what looks like a half a gallon coming out of their mouths. It&#039 ; s an amazing sight. |00:07:29| BRODY That&#039 ; s a great image. So, had your mom or stepdad ever done anything like that type of a business before? |00:07:37| SENEPHOUMY Actually, yes. When, when I was living in Connecticut as a child. One of my aunts owned a grocery store in Danbury, Connecticut. And every weekend we would drive up there- about an hour away from New Britain, where I grew up, and we would help out at her grocery store and I would just hang out there all day. And I guess that&#039 ; s what planted the seed. |00:08:06| BRODY Right? Kind of learned the ropes there. |00:08:07| SENEPHOUMY Yeah. |00:08:08| BRODY And it seemed doable and manageable. |00:08:11| SENEPHOUMY Yeah. You know, we weren&#039 ; t thinking about it at the time. At the time, we were just helping family members, you know, we had nothing else to do on the weekend, go help family and cook and eat and hang out. |00:08:21| BRODY Right? Tell me about Laotian food. |00:08:23| SENEPHOUMY Oh, Laotian food. And I get asked this all the time. What&#039 ; s the difference between Laotian food and Thai food? And if people just ask me outright &quot ; Can you tell me about Laotian food?&quot ; I say, &quot ; Well, it&#039 ; s just like Thai food, but more rustic, very bold flavors, unapologetic, bold flavors.&quot ; It&#039 ; s definitely not made or masked for, for the, for the gringo palate. And I like, I like to give this analogy to a lot of people. I tell them it&#039 ; s like it&#039 ; s like trying to call Uncle Julio&#039 ; s or Taco Bell &quot ; real Mexican food&quot ; when you know it&#039 ; s not. |00:09:14| BRODY Right. What are the like sort of signature dishes? |00:09:19| SENEPHOUMY Oh, sticky rice. Of course, sticky rice is a must have in every household. Sticky rice and steamed rice, but mainly compared to, compared to Thai households, we definitely will have sticky rice. Thai households won&#039 ; t. Papaya salad stands out. It&#039 ; s made with this real stinky, anchovy based sauce that&#039 ; s fermented for anywhere between weeks to months. The stinkier, the better. That&#039 ; s, that&#039 ; s just how that dish goes. Some more traditional ones would be like a laab, beef laab. Its minced meat of choice dish, whether it be chicken, pork or beef. Traditionally with Laotians, it&#039 ; s a, it&#039 ; s mostly beef, where the meat is the showcase, and then it&#039 ; s mixed with herbs like onions and just, just mince, and whatever fresh herbs that we would find in our backyard. |00:10:29| BRODY Sounds really good. Oh, so what was Dallas like when you got here? |00:10:35| SENEPHOUMY When I got here, when I got here in 2000, let me rewind. When I got here in 2000, it was like a second home to me because all my all, my extended family members live here- my uncles and cousins and whatnot- and they&#039 ; re in business themselves here. But the whole time I was with...I was living in Nebraska as a teenager. We would often periodically come, come down here to visit. So it wasn&#039 ; t a culture shock to me. So I was ready for it and I was used to it. The only thing I was shocked me was, was the summer heat, which I&#039 ; ve been here about 20 years worth, and I still can&#039 ; t take it. I was raised in the snow. So this isn&#039 ; t... |00:11:22| BRODY It&#039 ; s a whole different thing. So you mentioned that you knew a lot of, you know, family, extended family, and that the Laotian community here was established by 2000. In terms of sort of diversity. You know, were you with, I mean, coming from Nebraska, coming from Connecticut, what were what were your impressions? |00:11:46| SENEPHOUMY Diversity wise. I was, you know, Nebraska is the majority white working class, Caucasian working class. I would assume at the time all the brown people worked at the slaughterhouse with my parents. I was used to the diversity because I would travel here a lot and, you know, I was fortunate to visit another country and go to many states when I was younger, too. But if I were to take an average Nebraskan and bring them to Dallas, the first time, which I did... Brought my best friend down to the to the Houston, NASA thing on a family vacation with us, who were about 16 at the time. And he, he didn&#039 ; t know what to do. He was scared and shocked. It was, uh, too colorful for him, to say the least, but, you know, for regular people like that, it could be a surprise, but you know, fortunately, not for us. |00:13:01| BRODY Texas was more diverse than... |00:13:03| SENEPHOUMY Oh yeah, definitely. Very, very diverse. Very. |00:13:06| Diverse. |00:13:08| BRODY How about with connecting with the larger Lao community? Were there events or more casual get togethers? |00:13:19| SENEPHOUMY Yes. |00:13:20| BRODY At that time. There are, and there still are till this day. One of the big events is Lao New Year&#039 ; s, which happens in April. And what they do, what they do is they do a food celebration. People just come out sing, eat, drink. It&#039 ; s a community gathering and there&#039 ; s about four main temples in the DFW area, and they&#039 ; ll split the weekends. Like they&#039 ; ll do Lao New Year party at one and the other. That way, we&#039 ; re not favoring one part of town or one side of the community or, you know, we show some love at all the all the local temples. And that&#039 ; s a big thing. People come around from all over the country, Lao people, a lot of different Southeast Asian people, even Caucasians. Some of my Latino friends from Atlanta fly in just for that. |00:14:18| BRODY Wow. That&#039 ; s where is it held? At the temples, physically? |00:14:22| SENEPHOUMY The yeah, the big one is the Saginaw Temple. That&#039 ; s the big hoedown right there. That&#039 ; s the one everybody wants to go to. The big Rockwall Temple is pretty nice, too. They do a big thing over there as well. A couple more. I can&#039 ; t recall the name of the other two, but yeah, those are the two big ones. But the one that people travel for is the Saginaw party. |00:14:53| BRODY So tell me about the store. When you, so when, your mom and your stepdad opened it, what was it called? And what was the sort of a typical day for them? Who were their customers then |00:15:06| SENEPHOUMY Basically just the local Irving Lao community was their everyday customers. We did the same customers every day, every weekend. You know, like I said, we just pretty much catered to the local population, to the Irving population. When they opened it, it was called Nalinh Market, because my mom&#039 ; s brother, Nalinh from Nebraska, she my mom, convinced his family to move here with us as well to start this business. So it was named after him. His name sounded better than everybody else&#039 ; s name. It just rolled off your tongue a little better. |00:15:52| BRODY And it was in Irving where exactly.? |00:15:55| SENEPHOUMY Irving. Irving Boulevard and Loop 12...boulevard and Loop 12. It&#039 ; s... Right next to the to the 7-11, right off the highway. |00:16:08| BRODY So initially, you said they bought it, were they renting the space or they bought it outright? |00:16:14| SENEPHOUMY They, they bought the business and equipment from the previous owner. I don&#039 ; t know how much it was, but. And we&#039 ; re still renting the space out from the landlord to this day. |00:16:27| BRODY Yeah. So sort of the nuts and bolts of starting and continuing a business for such a long time. You know- what goes into that? What, what has your family&#039 ; s experience been with sourcing and maintaining the space and so on? |00:16:44| SENEPHOUMY Initially, the nuts and bolts of it were pretty simple. We were just retailing grocery items and fresh veggies. You know, my mom would just basically repackage vegetables. She would go get them from the bigger supermarkets, chop them down in smaller quantities. Made them prettier, you know, and just dressed them up and sold them in smaller, more affordable quantities. And that was pretty much it for the first. I&#039 ; d say, like 10 years of their business |00:17:17| BRODY And then what happened? |00:17:19| SENEPHOUMY And then what changed our lives was- Different families from different states started moving to Texas. Some old friends of our family. And my mom was known back in the 80s for making food, great food at house parties. And you know, we get her old friends moving here and they&#039 ; re asking, &quot ; Hey, are you still a good cook and whatnot? I miss your food from...Remember in 1984, when our kids were little rugrats and you made this special dish at the house? Can you still make it?&quot ; Mom&#039 ; s...&quot ; You know, yeah, I think I can still make it.&quot ; So she was unbeknownst to her, she was coerced to make a couple of dishes for sale by her old friends and just snowballed from there. |00:18:17| BRODY Really? So did she make them right there in the store? |00:18:23| SENEPHOUMY Not, not, after the first initial request, she just said, I don&#039 ; t have those items with me right now. Let me get them. When do you want to come back? Couple of days? The weekend? So they came back on the weekend. But those dishes, they loved them and word spread |00:18:41| BRODY The rest is history. |00:18:42| SENEPHOUMY The rest is history. There&#039 ; s a funny detail involved in that too. Where there was no kitchen in Nalinh Market. It was just a little grocery store, a little bodega. And mom was trying to think, &quot ; Well, I don&#039 ; t want to cook from the house and bring my friend this food.&quot ; So she grabs a Bunsen burner and a little frying pan and just cooks that for that individual. And as word of mouth got around, she was using the same Bunsen burner to cook food for the next....who knows how many people, right? Just, you know, and we didn&#039 ; t...We don&#039 ; t even have....We didn&#039 ; t have a food permit. We&#039 ; re not supposed to cook back then, but she&#039 ; s doing it for these people. And then and then she hit it big time to the point where she had to upgrade to a double Bunsen burner to keep up with requests. Yeah, and months roll by, and she&#039 ; s still cooking, and the demand increases as the popularity, word of mouth in the in the neighborhoods is spreading, and I just I have a talk with mom. I say, &quot ; Mom, you have to put the Bunsen burners away. It&#039 ; s embarrassing. Why don&#039 ; t we? Why don&#039 ; t we build a little kitchen back here?&quot ; And, you know, we started with a little makeshift kitchen. And it&#039 ; s still, if you go into Nalinh Market today, it still looks like a little makeshift kitchen because that spot was never meant to be a restaurant. And, you know. And that that&#039 ; s where it all began with a Bunsen burner. |00:20:40| BRODY That&#039 ; s fascinating and a really great story. Do you remember what the original food was that she was cooking? |00:20:48| SENEPHOUMY Laab. Beef laab. Which is a traditional dish, yeah. |00:20:53| BRODY And you mentioned that, you know that the demand started to grow through word of mouth. Was it mostly Lao people who were coming? |00:21:02| SENEPHOUMY Yes, it was definitely Lao people at first. It was definitely Lao people at first. And then when we got to the point where we had to have where we decided to put just two little sit down tables, four chair, sit down tables. I don&#039 ; t know if we were even allowed or permitted by the city yet to, to cook there. But you know, it&#039 ; s what we did until we were told differently. Yeah, so we were, we were mostly serving people we knew- friends or family. And then it would spread out to the local Laotian residents and then as we got more popular and this is when technology kind of changed the game a little bit, Yelp first started coming out and I- they, my parents still don&#039 ; t know this to this day. I created two fake Caucasian accounts. I remember the first one, Mr. Steve Martin, and the next one was like Mr. Sam Sampson, and I created our very first reviews for Nalinh Market, and I said, &quot ; I&#039 ; ve never had this type of food before. Wow, this is great. Southeast Asian food reminds me of Thailand.&quot ; you know, because Americans are familiar with Thailand. People saw those reviews and then the other ethnicities started coming. |00:22:38| BRODY That&#039 ; s really interesting because, well, first of all that that you created the Yelp accounts and secondly, that the way that you went about doing it. That I mean, were you thinking that this food is really great, but this is how to introduce it to a different... |00:22:58| SENEPHOUMY Not the, not the &quot ; really great&quot ; part yet because of I was an IT guy at the time. I went to school forIT. And I started doing, you know, basic IT work at any place I can. So just the fast forward, I ended up having a 20 year IT career before I opened my first restaurant, Saap Saap. So back at the time when I created those fake accounts, I was already in the IT realm. And you know, I heard of Yelp and these review apps and whatnot, and I just said, &quot ; Hey, I&#039 ; m going to give us a review. The world doesn&#039 ; t know about us. The real world does not know about us. Let&#039 ; s, let&#039 ; s get this out to, you know, let&#039 ; s expand it beyond our community.&quot ; |00:23:45| BRODY Did that happen? |00:23:46| SENEPHOUMY Immediately. |00:23:47| BRODY Yes. Tell me about that. What was the cause and effect there? |00:23:52| SENEPHOUMY Well, we would get our first Caucasian set of customers in. My parents would ask them if they were lost or if there&#039 ; s anything particular they&#039 ; re looking for. And they just said, &quot ; Hey, we heard the food is the food is good here. I have some Thai friends, you know? Is it similar to your food?&quot ; And we just introduced them to our food and it was all word of mouth at the time. And it still is. We don&#039 ; t do any marketing. We didn&#039 ; t spend a dime on marketing then. Just as I told you, the only marketing we had was me and my free fake accounts. And yeah, it just, just, just spread by word of mouth and we started getting other, other people of other ethnicities and... Yeah, yeah, we just saw that the demand was starting to grow, and I convinced, eventually convinced my mom to get legitimate licenses and go to the city and whatnot to where we could actually have a mini full kitchen in that location and convinced her to put out a third and fourth table. |00:25:20| BRODY So when those non-Lao people started coming in, did they know what they were looking for? Did they use your family as a guide to, you know-&quot ; What? What is this supposed to taste like? What am I looking for? What&#039 ; s good here?&quot ; |00:25:39| SENEPHOUMY Initially, they played it safe for the for the most part because, you know, everybody&#039 ; s eaten Thai food, ordered the things that they&#039 ; re used to, the familiar dishes, Pad Thai and whatnot, egg rolls and whatnot. And then what I did, you know, I&#039 ; m more talkative than my parents. So when I was working my IT job, I would come and help them out on the weekends. I&#039 ; d get hungry, free food, right? And I, I would see the same Caucasian customers returning and same Mexican customers returning. I would say, &quot ; Hey, I see that you&#039 ; re eating spicier. You should try this dish.&quot ; And suggest other dishes and whatnot. And that&#039 ; s...That&#039 ; s how we got them to open up their palate a little bit. |00:26:29| BRODY Right? Had many of them even heard of Laos before? |00:26:32| SENEPHOUMY Most of them...No. I&#039 ; d say like 95 percent of the people didn&#039 ; t. The older generation did. There would be some which I later learned after they become my friends. They were...They were veterans of the war and they were stationed in Thailand, et cetera. And you know, they said this, this reminds them so much of the Thai street food, and they were versed. But for the most part, no, we had to, we had to guide them and ease them into it. |00:27:03| BRODY Did the menu expand rapidly or it sort of stay to a small number of items? |00:27:10| SENEPHOUMY I&#039 ; d say initially very small because we didn&#039 ; t know what we were getting ourselves into. We weren&#039 ; t prepared for the business side of things, so we were only able to manage what we could handle. And then after we were getting more popular with, with just a general DFW population, there are more requests for certain traditional dishes, which were easy for us to do. We just, I think we just needed, needed that convincing, you know...needed that little push. Customers asked for it and we shall provide. |00:27:58| BRODY That&#039 ; s great. So eventually, you did interact with the city and get the permits, and all of that stuff. Can you tell me more about that? |00:28:09| SENEPHOUMY It was pretty simple. We just. Well. Probably not the best. Initially, they would come in and tell us, &quot ; Hey, you can&#039 ; t do this. You don&#039 ; t have permits for it. Where your permits?&quot ; &quot ; OK, sir. So what? What do we need to do to get to that point?&quot ; And they, you know they walked us through it. |00:28:29| BRODY It was pretty cooperative. |00:28:30| SENEPHOUMY Yeah, yeah, it was cooperative. And there was there was no negativity at all. They saw that we, you know, they probably saw us as an asset to the community for the things that we were doing and that they help us out. |00:28:43| BRODY Yeah. Did you experience with that in that time period, any kind of racism or any difficulties or challenges that way? |00:28:54| SENEPHOUMY I would say 2007ish, you know, there was really no racism. The markets were good, everybody was making money. I think oil was, you know, the economy was great. Everybody was happy. There was no, no public tension. You know, we get a few idiots here and there, but not nothing that would stand out. Nothing bad. All that racist stuff comes later. |00:29:25| BRODY Yeah, some people who have businesses that are, you know, Asian businesses or other immigrant businesses talk about difficulties, maybe with the immediate neighbors, neighborhood difficulties over signage or things like that. Did you experience any of that? |00:29:44| SENEPHOUMY Not really, because our location in South Irving. It&#039 ; s a minority community, to say the least, you know. So we didn&#039 ; t we didn&#039 ; t really have any problems and our neighbors, like our business neighbors, they...They specialized in their own businesses, so we weren&#039 ; t stepping on anybody&#039 ; s toes or anything like that, and we all got along well. |00:30:12| BRODY Good. That kind of raises the question of competition. At that time, was there any other business that was selling Laotian food? |00:30:22| SENEPHOUMY Not really. There were, at the time, there might have been one or two, but they were, they were located so far, like in Fort Worth and I think maybe one in Haltom City, to where we, we didn&#039 ; t compete. |00:30:42| BRODY Right. Did you...Were you, not competing, but did you have a relationship? |00:30:47| SENEPHOUMY Oh yeah, it&#039 ; s such a small community. I&#039 ; d say more, more- more of my mom&#039 ; s knowledge. The older community just knows everybody. They know everybody. The younger people like me, we have no idea whose kids are who and whatnot until we see each other events or parties. |00:31:10| BRODY So that&#039 ; s interesting that the community is so small that, you know, if you have a similar business that you could maybe compare notes or, you know, share information. You mentioned earlier that you were just, you know, early on sort of trying to keep up with the business side of things. What were some of the challenges and factors there? |00:31:34| SENEPHOUMY Well, I would say a lot of it would have been the accounting. I, at the time, was the only first person...I wouldn&#039 ; t say first, my sister was kind of starting too. I was the only one in our family with the real American formal education. So my mom and stepdad who were running the business, they were just...They were just running it off of muscle memory, really. They...They didn&#039 ; t have the accounting education to handle business the right way at that time. |00:32:11| BRODY And taxes and all of that kind of stuff. |00:32:13| SENEPHOUMY Right. The, you know, even though they didn&#039 ; t understand all the taxes and whatnot, they would just hire a local tax person to handle that for them. |00:32:25| BRODY Great. And the status of the business now? Still, still going? |00:32:28| SENEPHOUMY Now? My sister runs that location. She&#039 ; s considering getting out of it. Prior to COVID, we were, I would say, maybe the top three most popular Lao family restaurants...Maybe, maybe in the country. In the state, for sure. You know? |00:33:04| BRODY Tell me about what your trajectory was after that period of time, what did you do after the Nalinh Market and the initial run of that, of that restaurant and turning it into a restaurant. |00:33:20| SENEPHOUMY Um, my goal was just to expand the audience and my family was fortunate that I was, I have am IT background, so I used whatever social media was available at the time, and just wanted to reach out to different audiences just to, you know, spread the word a little more. I was still very reluctant to marketing. And I think if I was more educated on that and knew more people to help, I would say, we would have actually been, been in better business than we were. Yeah, we probably would have made an even bigger impact. |00:34:17| BRODY You went on to start your own restaurant as well, right? |00:34:21| SENEPHOUMY Yes, yes. A sidebar and we can talk about this off, off camera, off the mic, but mom and I decided it was time to two separate ways from Nalinh Market, so we had a good talk. Mom said, &quot ; You know, use your education. You didn&#039 ; t go to school for nothing. You&#039 ; ve been the IT field for umpteen years, 15 years. You&#039 ; ve held whatever government clearances for your jobs and whatnot, you know, you have a decent future doing that.&quot ; And I said, &quot ; Mom, you know, if you stop the community going to be sad.&quot ; So it made me think and it made me realize that I had to carry on the tradition. And in short, I decided to open up the restaurant. The second restaurant, which was called Saap Saap and Mom and I ran that from 2017, January of 2017, till its closing day, few, couple of months ago, I would say November of 2021. |00:35:35| BRODY So that kind of puts you smack in the middle of COVID and all of, all of that. How did COVID impact both businesses? |00:35:45| SENEPHOUMY COVID didn&#039 ; t really impact the original location that bad, because we&#039 ; ve already established a good customer base- about 20 years worth of work of customers- and then the location was ideal too. It&#039 ; s right off the highway, easy to find and whatnot. We&#039 ; ve already had a good social media following, so the fan base was there. At Saap Saap, it impacted us tremendously and horribly. So COVID really started for the public in what? January or Februaryish of twenty, right? 2020. OK, so I&#039 ; ve already been in business there three years and the trend was that we were very slow in the winters. We&#039 ; re basically dead in the winters. And but that year, right before COVID, my, my doors were open every night. All the seats were full. You couldn&#039 ; t get a seat in my place. We were peak. I had, I had the perfect staff. It took me three years to cultivate a great staff. I had everything we ever needed and my staff and I were even looking at each other going, &quot ; Wow, this is this is January, this is February, and people are waiting for seats here. This this is amazing.&quot ; So we&#039 ; re peaking. We&#039 ; re at our very best. And then....Not even a few weeks later, we, we get hit with the COVID rules, you know? Dine in is chopped down to what, a quarter? 25 percent of the time? I&#039 ; m a dine in location at Saap Saap, so automatically, you know, 75, 75 percent of my income is affected, is taken away. So I&#039 ; m...from the very first or second week of the COVID rules and laws, I&#039 ; m already so, so deep, you know? |00:37:58| BRODY It hit you hard. |00:37:59| SENEPHOUMY Yeah, I&#039 ; m just trying to trying to fight an uphill battle. |00:38:06| BRODY That&#039 ; s really hard timing because you were hitting your momentum, |00:38:10| SENEPHOUMY Yes. |00:38:10| BRODY ...hitting your stride. |00:38:11| SENEPHOUMY Yes. And on top of that too, we emotionally it, it just it. It took its toll on us, but we had an exit plan for Mom because we built up our staff and, in that business and especially with our family&#039 ; s food, it&#039 ; s so hard to get the cooks to make the food the way we do it, because there are no formal recipes. It&#039 ; s, it&#039 ; s our family&#039 ; s recipes, it&#039 ; s the school was my mom&#039 ; s kitchen, you know, and I&#039 ; ve, I&#039 ; ve been clinging in on her butt since I was a little kid and that&#039 ; s how I learned to cook. It&#039 ; s very hard to teach anybody how to make food the way we make it, and we were able to do it with our new staff or current staff at the time. So we had an exit plan for Mom. We said, we had a team meeting, &quot ; Hey, can we do this without Mom?&quot ; Yes. &quot ; Do you know your job?&quot ; Everybody knows their job. Fine. Mom&#039 ; s going to retire in April and we&#039 ; ll give her some retired benefits. But she&#039 ; s out of here. She&#039 ; s, getting old, let her go, see the world and whatnot. And once COVID hit, those plans were scrapped. Ended up losing my, my staff, my whole staff and Mom and I were left to run the business by ourselves. Just the two of us. |00:39:42| BRODY Wow. So did you...A lot of restaurants pivoted to curbside and takeout. Is that sort of the strategy? |00:39:51| SENEPHOUMY Um, we had to...we had to adapt to it. We didn&#039 ; t have a choice. Our- what services did we use- the carry out services like what Uber Eats and whatnot? Our orders went up, but, we that just didn&#039 ; t help because our customer base were a dine in base and most of our customer base loved the intimacy of what we provided. |00:40:29| BRODY Yeah. Can you tell me about, you know, just it&#039 ; s a sad ending, but to go back to the happier times when you were hitting your stride, what was your vision for Saap Saap? What was what type of place was it? What was, what did you hope your customers would feel when they were there? |00:40:46| SENEPHOUMY I, um, I didn&#039 ; t have any plans for how I hoped the customer would feel. My, my initial vision was just to use our food as a tool to educate the community and you could say the rest of the world, expose them to, to our culture and to my people. And what better way would there be to do that than to break bread with somebody, right? Feed people. They&#039 ; re happy. You get talking. You become buddies and the word spreads around, you know? Just to educate the community about our culture and our -through, through our food, really. And business wise, I wanted to open multiple locations like maybe three or four locations. We had another location in the works at the time right before COVID. We&#039 ; re planning that out. We&#039 ; re strategists, we were strategizing for about, you know, two, two or three additional locations. And I think that&#039 ; ll work, that would have worked out well. The, the vibe of our patrons just came naturally. You know, we, we grew up in Podunk, Nebraska, where everybody knows everybody and we&#039 ; re just comfortable talking to our neighbors. You don&#039 ; t really get that in most restaurants that you eat at nowadays. And you know, the customers at the table don&#039 ; t get to speak with the executive chef. Call them by first name. Say hi to them every time they eat. It was like that at our place. And that&#039 ; s what the customers liked and wanted. And that&#039 ; s also why the, the takeout option during COVID didn&#039 ; t work, because that wasn&#039 ; t our customer base. You know, they wanted to be there for, for the whole atmosphere, for the whole experience as well. Not- they didn&#039 ; t just want to grab their food and go. |00:42:55| BRODY Right. Well, it kind of ties together what you were saying earlier that- about training chefs that, you know, that it&#039 ; s hard to teach people exactly the ins and outs of your mom&#039 ; s cooking or your family&#039 ; s cooking, and it sounds like the restaurant anyway was something like being in your in your home. |00:43:19| SENEPHOUMY Yes, yes. |00:43:19| BRODY Right? With you and with your, you know, with your mom. So that makes sense. That kind of leads pretty naturally into another set of questions that deal more generally with when we&#039 ; re talking about food from immigrant communities. Did you do things with the recipes, with the food to appeal to certain groups? |00:43:55| SENEPHOUMY Well, for our Southeast Asian community, you know, we are we offered we offered party catering and whatnot, and we felt honored because, you know, a bunch of-we were, we were commissioned for, for quite a few weddings. You know, it&#039 ; s a major important, major event in those people&#039 ; s lives. And for us to provide a service and to be a part of that is just something special. So we were well known for that service as well. We didn&#039 ; t really go out of our way or out of our path to, to, to formulate a special game plan to try to reach out to certain groups, you know, we just kept doing what we were doing. |00:44:51| BRODY And then as far as...A lot of times people talk about, you know, quote unquote ethnic food as being, you know, authentic. Did you feel like you...What are your feelings around that concept of &quot ; authenticity&quot ; ? |00:45:11| SENEPHOUMY When it comes to ethnic food, I myself, before I even opened up the restaurant, before we even had our first couple of tables at Nalinh Market, I would purposely go seek out places that I knew served food that didn&#039 ; t look like a restaurant because I knew that&#039 ; s where the real food was at. You know, the less fancier places. Most likely that&#039 ; s where you can get the best food, the most authentic food. I, I live in, I live in the, in, in a dichotomy where our food is known to be authentic and expect it to be authentic, but at the same time, to survive in business, you know that you have to...You can&#039 ; t follow that 100 percent if you want the dollars to come in, you know? You have to, you have to adjust your foods to the western palate and make, make-And you guys can&#039 ; t see this, but I&#039 ; m rolling my eyes when I&#039 ; m thinking about it, you know, to make Taco Bell food. You know, you just have to to stay in business. But... |00:46:37| BRODY So for your menu, what did that look like? What did that look like across the board...Changing things for the western palate? Or did it mean to include certain items on the menu that were good sellers? |00:46:50| SENEPHOUMY I wouldn&#039 ; t do it, and that might have been part of my demise. I was stubborn about it. We&#039 ; ve even had internal meetings about this to where, &quot ; Hey, you know, you have customers coming in wanting orange chicken and stuff like that.&quot ; That&#039 ; s just not us. And I, you know, I would put my foot down and yeah, I could&#039 ; ve made a ton of money making orange chicken and whatever Hunan beef and whatever else. But that&#039 ; s just that&#039 ; s not who we are. That&#039 ; s not the food we make. We&#039 ; ve we become- we&#039 ; ve grown as a business in the last 15 years because of what we do, because we make authentic food from home, from when my mom was 10, 11 years old, cooking for her 11 siblings and her parents in the jungles of Laos. You know, and we just wanted to provide those same foods and we didn&#039 ; t want to stray from it, no matter what cost. I mean, that&#039 ; s what we became known for. So there&#039 ; s, you know, I don&#039 ; t want to stray from the authenticity of what we were doing. |00:48:08| BRODY Earlier you mentioned that you wanted to use food as a tool to educate people, customers about your culture and about, you know, about the food. What are the main messages that you would have, that you did and you do want to convey to the public through your menu? |00:48:28| SENEPHOUMY Um, curiosity leads to exploration. Exploration leads to education, you know, and the education is what just brings people together. You know, the more you know about your neighbor and, and your potential friends and just better off. It&#039 ; s just, it&#039 ; s just going to be better off for everybody, for the world, for society. And, you know, it&#039 ; s just a simple formula. That&#039 ; s all I ever wanted to do with my food. |00:49:03| BRODY To connect with people. |00:49:04| SENEPHOUMY Yes. Yes. |00:49:07| BRODY Sort of thinking about your customers, both at the Nalinh Market and at Saap Saap, did it end up being a pretty multicultural, multiethnic crowd that you were able to reach? |00:49:22| SENEPHOUMY Yes, very. Yeah, we&#039 ; ve reached just about everybody on the spectrum. I, you know, Nalinh Market, they...It&#039 ; s just well known. Everybody knows them, so word of mouth gets friends of friends from this ethnicity to the next ethnicity coming in. I didn&#039 ; t spend a lot of time there, because I was busy at Saap Saap, but what I experienced at Saap Saap was I had Russian people flying in from Chicago just to eat our food. We&#039 ; d have visitors from Peru who told us that they&#039 ; re in America because they just want to explore the best of what America has to offer. You know, and I&#039 ; m humbled they&#039 ; re eating at our restaurant. Just- wow speechless, right? And, you know, you know, people from Peru, people from Russia. Thai people who are visiting California, flying into California, flying into Texas here to eat our food and Canadians. It&#039 ; s humbling. It&#039 ; s fantastic. It&#039 ; s a, it&#039 ; s a neat experience. |00:50:47| BRODY Yeah, a lot of the interviews that I&#039 ; m doing, I&#039 ; m finding that the restaurants have served as a bridge to other communities and other types of people, and that the food, as you said, has been a really good, you know, impetus for people connecting with each other. Do you have any stories that you want to share about examples of something like that happening? |00:51:14| SENEPHOUMY Oh. Many, many, many that I can&#039 ; t pick out specifically. Like, for example, there&#039 ; s one guy I can think of. He&#039 ; s been to Thailand a couple of times and probably when he was a kid, maybe a teenager. He hasn&#039 ; t eaten that food in forever and after we opened up Saap Saap, he would eat there pretty much on a weekly, weekly basis, sometimes a couple of times a week. It made him travel more to Southeast Asia. Every like six months or so he would, he and his lady would go to a new country in Southeast Asia and come back, tell me all about it. He gets a tattoo written in Lao or Thai. On his arm, and yeah, yeah, it&#039 ; s amazing how, you know, food can just open those doors and touch people in those ways. |00:52:31| BRODY That&#039 ; s a great story. Another pattern that people have noticed is of, and this may be more true of Nalinh Market maybe, of immigrant businesses becoming sort of a hub for the, their own community. Did you find that to be the case? You know, I know you mentioned that the grandmas and their chewing tobacco, but are other examples of ways in which the market itself was a hub. Other examples, you know, sharing information, fliers, community events? |00:53:12| SENEPHOUMY Yes. Whenever there would be a community event like, for example, the big old Lao New Year parties, people would drop off fliers, concert fliers, long lost friends who haven&#039 ; t seen each other in a while, they&#039 ; ll stop by and ask us to pass messages, messages or phone numbers to them |00:53:39| BRODY Wait, really? Like, people would come to shop and say, &quot ; Oh, if you see so and so...&quot ; . |00:53:42| SENEPHOUMY Yes. Yes, exactly. And I&#039 ; m sorry (drinks water) |00:53:49| BRODY So people would come to shop and say to your mom, &quot ; Have you seen so-and-so in a while?&quot ; |00:53:56| SENEPHOUMY Because, you know, my mom&#039 ; s older? And, she... the people, the people of her generation from the 80s, as I mentioned earlier, they just know, know everybody who came from Laos through the same situations that she did. Long lost friends, long lost family members who are seeking the other person would drop their phone number and ask my mom, &quot ; Hey, if you see this person, can you give it, can you give it to them?&quot ; |00:54:36| BRODY Obviously, before the internet and... |00:54:39| SENEPHOUMY Even during the internet because the older people of our culture, you know, they, they don&#039 ; t know how to navigate the technology that&#039 ; s provided today. So, so our location still to this day would be used as a hub or a meeting point or, and we&#039 ; ve seen this a lot throughout the years, throughout the last two decades where people would be out of work, you know, and they just need a place to hang out to feel like home. And they would do that at Nalinh Market. And sometimes we would we would hire them as an extra hand put them to work. You know, we need our walls, walls painted or whatnot or, or even just outside jobs. If we knew other Asian business owners or not even Asian business owners or customers of other ethnicities. If people were hiring, you know, we could refer them to them. |00:55:42| BRODY It&#039 ; s great. So sort of a neighborhood hub and in your, yeah, community hub as well. |00:55:46| SENEPHOUMY Definitely. And there would be times where people will just hang out there the whole day for eight to ten hours hoping to see whoever they&#039 ; re there to meet up with or just, just for a sense of belonging to a sense of belonging sometimes. |00:56:03| BRODY That&#039 ; s nice. Did people come on the weekends to kind of shop for the week or was it kind of a steady stream? |00:56:12| SENEPHOUMY Oh, you&#039 ; d get more on the weekends. During the week, we would pretty much get a lunch crowd and then just a casual grocery shopper. But before we, before we started cooking food at Nalinh Market, that was like the place to be on the weekend. Like everybody just had to be there for no reason just to see each other&#039 ; s faces and whatnot. |00:56:43| BRODY Yeah, you&#039 ; d run into people, maybe even more so than the Temple or... |00:56:47| SENEPHOUMY Yeah. Yeah, exactly. |00:56:49| BRODY So it&#039 ; s really interesting. So the current landscape, post-COVID, you know, Dallas has been named, you know, &quot ; 2019 Restaurant City of the Year&quot ; by Bon Appetit magazine and one of the things that the magazine cited in choosing Dallas was the large number of immigrant neighborhoods and restaurants, that diversity and in choices. Going forward, where do you think... What do you think, in Dallas, the future of Lao food is? |00:57:29| SENEPHOUMY Well, I think going forward, it&#039 ; s going to, the future of Lao food should expand exponentially. I mean, if we go backwards a little bit, you&#039 ; ll see that we may be about 15 years ago, we might have had three Lao restaurants and now there&#039 ; s probably, I&#039 ; m guessing, 20 plus owned, family owned Lao restaurants. So the demand is there and the education of the Lao food is definitely there and reaching out to other communities and in other geographical locations in DFW. So I think that demand will keep keep growing. And I think... I don&#039 ; t know if it&#039 ; ll ever become commonplace, but you&#039 ; ll see more of it. |00:58:30| BRODY Well, with the popularity of Thai food and sort of the similarities. |00:58:34| SENEPHOUMY Yes. Yes. And. The sophistication of our food is surprisingly growing. Especially in other, other ethnic groups that are non-Laotian. You have American raised individuals who, who know the distinction now between Lao and Thai food, whereas 10 years ago we didn&#039 ; t have that. You know, and they&#039 ; re even, they&#039 ; re pickier nowadays, they&#039 ; re more precise about what kind of Lao food they want. And yeah, you would have never guessed this 10, 15 years ago. It would have blew your mind if, if you ran into this kind of aficionado from, from non Laotian people. |00:59:27| BRODY Yeah, I&#039 ; ve read that, you know, initially people who were trying to serve Lao food would need to sort of label it &quot ; Thai and Lao&quot ; or something just to give people a reference point. It sounds like what you&#039 ; re saying is that&#039 ; s no longer the case. |00:59:44| SENEPHOUMY Yeah, definitely. It&#039 ; s, it&#039 ; s still the case to a certain extent. Like even, for example, my restaurant Saap Saap, I got flak from the Laotian community from, from a lot. Hey. So, so I had a sign that said &quot ; Saap Saap Lao and Thai Cuisine.&quot ; &quot ; Why are you adding the word &#039 ; Thai&#039 ; in your restaurant title?&quot ; Well, not everybody knows what and where Laos is, so I have to do that to attract the people who are familiar with what the Thai culture and Thai food. It&#039 ; s just numbers. They have a bigger population than we do. They&#039 ; ve been here longer than us. People know about them more. So we have to do that. But like I said, the flak I was getting, you know, &quot ; Hey, if you&#039 ; re really trying to stay pure, if you&#039 ; re really trying to stay authentic and whatnot,&quot ; you know, and I got a lot of trouble or flak for this or a lot of negativity for this. And my response is, &quot ; Hey, we do this because we have to.&quot ; People who are familiar with the Thai culture. And plus it&#039 ; s not that I&#039 ; m not trying to be a purist. In order to get to that level, we have to find a happy medium, you know? Yeah, we just,, we have to start somewhere. |01:01:19| BRODY Yeah, I mean, it sounds, when we put what you&#039 ; re saying right now together with what you know, the issues of- that we talked about earlier that you could sell tons of orange beef if you know, if that&#039 ; s what you were comfortable selling. That, you know, that walking that fine line between wanting to be authentic to the mission, you know, the vision that you have and also be a thriving business? You know how everyone&#039 ; s line is somewhere. |01:01:49| SENEPHOUMY But then again, to the people who are giving me flak, I respond the same way to most of them &quot ; Hey, you go open your own Lao restaurant and you could call it and do whatever you want with it.&quot ; |01:02:02| BRODY Oh, so looking back at both, you know, both the businesses and the experiences that you have and continue to have, what are some lessons or reflections on sort of the whole experience as well as Asian food in Dallas in particular? |01:02:23| SENEPHOUMY Well, this ties in to another question you asked me earlier what is the difference between Lao and Thai food? And I tried to explain to you technically about the ingredients, but there&#039 ; s a there&#039 ; s an ingredient that I didn&#039 ; t mention-the people. My mother and I, you know, we were fortunate to spend a lot of our time in in Nebraska, in the Midwest being raised Midwest. You, you pick up on the work ethics, ethic that&#039 ; s just there. It&#039 ; s inherent with that, with that growing up in that part of the country. And, you know, we bring that with us and we bring our, our, just the way we communicate and feel for our neighbors and that, that is a major ingredient that people don&#039 ; t understand in this business, you know, (inaudible). That&#039 ; s such just what you need. And we need more of that, not just in the Lao food restaurants, but just generally speaking. And I think that&#039 ; s where a lot of our popularity came from. You know, we provided that that sense of community and then just, just having an environment where people felt good to be a part of, to be around, and it, it understandably gets easily lost when you&#039 ; re trying to run a business, you know, it&#039 ; s all you&#039 ; re thinking about is numbers and money. But one of my philosophies have always been, you know, don&#039 ; t worry about the money, just take care of the important things first. And the money will come. If you&#039 ; re good at what you do and you like what you do, the money will come. |01:04:34| BRODY A good spirit to have. Well, those are some really great stories and really interesting reflections. Is there anything that I didn&#039 ; t ask you about that you&#039 ; d like to share? |01:04:46| SENEPHOUMY Probably too much that we don&#039 ; t have time for. A lot of...Since, since this is supposed to be archived for a for a cultural influence and whatnot, a lot of the questions that were missing would probably pertain to my mother. And, you know, she&#039 ; s a big part of this story. The work ethic that that lady is, her work ethic is untouchable. And it&#039 ; s just crazy. People say the same thing about her work ethic all the time, and it&#039 ; s just a history where she came from during the war and being in the refugee camps before, before coming to America. And this is a lot of other Laotian families going through the same thing. But, the character that, that the character that was instilled in her, you know, just the history in the past of coming from Laos, the way she did and the poverty and the way she had to raise her kids here in a foreign land, not speaking the language and without the education. It just it lit a fire in her and pushed her to, you know, work with whatever God given tools that you have and just make the best of it. Yeah, so I mean, if, if, if you have some questions leading towards that, I&#039 ; ll be happy to answer. But regarding my mother, but you know, if you&#039 ; re open to conversation with her or details, that&#039 ; s an available option as well. I&#039 ; m just afraid things might get lost in translation. |01:06:57| BRODY Yeah. Tell me about her journey over here. How old was she? And she already had children at the point that she... |01:07:03| SENEPHOUMY Yeah, she had three kids to take care of at the time. I&#039 ; m guessing she was. Let&#039 ; s see, we came about &#039 ; 80, &#039 ; 81. 63. What&#039 ; s that... Born in &#039 ; 61, &#039 ; 81, 20 years. |01:07:24| BRODY Oh, yeah, yeah. |01:07:26| SENEPHOUMY Twenty years old. You know, in a refugee camp... |01:07:33| BRODY Where was the refugee camp? |01:07:35| SENEPHOUMY Somewhere in Thailand. On the border of Laos and Thailand? Yeah. |01:07:39| BRODY So was she separated from her parents at that point? |01:07:43| SENEPHOUMY Yes. Yes. So her parents stayed in Laos. She, when she was in the refugee camp, her- some of the family got split up as well. I think I think we got separated from my older brother. He ended up going to Australia because I think at the time there&#039 ; s about like six or eight options where you could get deported to right or imported to go to and... My dad&#039 ; s side of the family ended up going to Australia. My mom and our were immediate family came here to America. I think my older brother got lost in the mix somehow, and he ended up staying with my dad&#039 ; s side of the family in Australia. You know, tough life. He had to struggle with that growing up without his real family over there. And...So currently, they&#039 ; re there, the Australia side of the family there... They also own four restaurants in the Sydney area. |01:09:02| BRODY Oh, really? |01:09:02| SENEPHOUMY Yeah. |01:09:03| BRODY All Laotian? |01:09:05| SENEPHOUMY Yes. But they&#039 ; re more, they&#039 ; re more of a Thai restaurant because they have to be. They&#039 ; re in Sydney. So, you know, they have to, they have to cater to that crowd. But I&#039 ; ve seen their menu and they do authentic Lao foods as well. Yeah, but they&#039 ; re very busy over there and... |01:09:30| BRODY So your brother is involved with those restaurants? |01:09:32| SENEPHOUMY Oh, no, no, he isn&#039 ; t. But my dad&#039 ; s side of the family is my dad&#039 ; s brothers and sisters are in Sydney. |01:09:43| BRODY So your mom sounds like a pretty remarkable woman, so |01:09:48| SENEPHOUMY Yeah, yeah. And I&#039 ; ve been told, you know, I don&#039 ; t. I don&#039 ; t realize it myself until I step back a little bit, you know? See things from a third person perspective, but it&#039 ; s like mostly everybody I run into, says, &quot ; Xay. She&#039 ; s the hardest working I&#039 ; ve ever seen.&quot ; From teenagers to adults, you know senior adults in their 80s. They just man, you just got to be around her for at least an hour or two. It&#039 ; s, it&#039 ; s, you know, you have people like that anymore nowadays. |01:10:29| BRODY She sounds amazing. How long was she in the refugee camp there in Thailand? |01:10:35| SENEPHOUMY I&#039 ; m not sure,. |01:10:35| BRODY Roughly. |01:10:36| SENEPHOUMY I&#039 ; m not sure exactly. Maybe anywhere between six months to a year. |01:10:40| BRODY And then the time came for it, and then she came directly to Houston. In your understanding? |01:10:46| SENEPHOUMY Yes. But before that, if we were rewind a little. I later learned in life that when she was in Laos, prior to going to the refugee camp, she was actually working as a nurse under the UN, under the UN umbrella. So she was patching up soldiers and civilians and whatnot, and she couldn&#039 ; t have been any more than what, 17 through 20 at the time. And I think one of the one of the major factors that got her into that position was a sponsor family here in the Houston area. There was a, there was a doctor and his wife, and I think she was in the medical field as well. But they, there was like some educational child sponsorship program back then. You know, they&#039 ; re probably like the UNICEF commercials that you see on TV nowadays. My mom happened to fortunately be the recipient of one of those programs. And, you know, she&#039 ; s always kept in touch with that family and I to this day have never met him. I wish I could have. He&#039 ; s already passed. You know, I know, I think I think she felt like she really owed it to their family to keep pushing. You know, it&#039 ; s probably what is a part of that fire, you know. |01:12:27| BRODY So, they sponsored her to come here? |01:12:31| SENEPHOUMY I, I&#039 ; m assuming they probably through, that program, helped her become a nurse. And then since she was working under the U.N. umbrella, made it easier for us to get to America through the refugee camps. |01:12:55| BRODY That&#039 ; s an incredible story and thank you so much for sharing all of that. Well, I really appreciate your time today and look forward to learning more about your family&#039 ; s experiences. Thank you so much. |01:13:09| SENEPHOUMY It was my pleasure. I hope I got whatever information, you know. I just hope I answered most of your questions as best as I was able to. |01:13:22| BRODY It was wonderful. Thank you very much. Thank you. |01:13:25| SENEPHOUMY The pleasure&#039 ; s mine. Thank you. All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. audio Interviews may be reproduced with permission from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. 0




“Interview with Xay Senephoumy, February 18, 2022,” Digging In Dallas, accessed July 12, 2024,