Interview with Donny Sirisavath, August 8, 2022

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Interview with Donny Sirisavath, August 8, 2022


Asian Americans
Cooking, Lao







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Betsy Brody


Donny Sirisavath

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5.4 Interview with Donny Sirisavath, August 8, 2022 2021oh002_di_020 02:24:39 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, Lao Donny Sirisavath Betsy Brody mp3 oh_audio_dig_sirisavath_donny_20220808.mp3 1:|13(8)|35(5)|77(6)|90(4)|106(8)|121(3)|135(2)|196(8)|210(8)|258(3)|270(6)|285(1)|310(16)|322(10)|333(3)|347(8)|369(10)|406(2)|415(9)|426(14)|451(11)|461(9)|472(16)|512(16)|522(2)|534(1)|553(7)|565(3)|611(9)|623(12)|655(3)|666(5)|678(2)|690(5)|702(5)|710(11)|720(12)|733(1)|756(7)|797(6)|808(13)|846(9)|859(9)|907(8)|919(4)|939(11)|992(11)|1001(10)|1024(6)|1039(2)|1050(3)|1064(5)|1085(9)|1098(4)|1110(2)|1132(9)|1144(7)|1169(2)|1179(10)|1191(18)|1223(7)|1233(12)|1245(11)|1257(9)|1270(2)|1281(11)|1292(9)|1307(6)|1317(8)|1331(2)|1366(10)|1419(14)|1453(4)|1464(1)|1476(11)|1604(14)|1689(5) 0 Aviary audio 0 Introduction 33 Growing up in Amarillo Texas Amarillo ; immigrants ; immigration ; Laos ; refugees ; Texas 102 Refugee identity bartering ; cooking ; English ; food ; language ; Lao ; refugee ; Thai 214 Mom's background in Laos bartering ; cooking ; family 421 Moving to San Antonio/ Sirisavath's mom opens Rama Garden Restaurant business ; Chinese cooking ; Chinese restaurant ; cooking ; family ; restaurant ; San Antonio 575 Family names family ; names 725 Working at Rama Garden and Taste of the Orient Chinese cooking ; Chinese restaurant ; cooking ; family business ; restaurant ; wok 942 Sirisavath describes learning Lao home cooking from his mom cooking ; culture ; family ; food ; home cooking ; immigrant ; laab ; Lao food ; larb ; papaya salad ; recipes ; refugee 1043 Balancing Lao culture and American culture Asian flavors ; bullying ; culture ; discrimination ; food ; immigrant ; racism ; sandwich 1331 How food bridges a gap in culture authentic ; authenticity ; Chinese food ; cooking ; culture ; food ; identity ; Laos ; restaurants ; Thai food 1660 Lao cooking and flavors fermentation ; fish sauce ; Lao cooking ; Laos 2099 Sirisavath describes his late teenage years Asian restaurant ; Bai Bua ; cookng ; culture ; identity ; Mexican food ; restaurant ; Thai food 2366 Working various jobs after leaving high school/Moving to Dallas Benihana ; Dallas ; employment 2833 Starting pop-ups/Opening Khao Noodle Shop Asian food ; culture ; food ; house parties ; Lao food ; pop-up ; recipes ; restaurants 3852 Finding a location for Khao Noodle Shop Asian restaurant ; Dallas ; East Dallas ; Khao Noodle Shop ; Lao restaurant ; real estate 4091 Khao Noodle Shop recognized by Bon Appetit magazine Bon Appetit ; business ; Khao Noodle Shop ; Lao food ; Laos 4801 Sirisavath recognized by Food + Wine Magazine and James Beard Foundation COVID ; flu ; Food + Wine Magazine ; James Beard Award ; Lao food ; Lao Food Movement ; Laos ; pandemic 5148 Food and storytelling at Khao Noodle Shop authentic ; bridge ; cookng ; food ; Khao Noodle Shop ; storytelling 5560 Authenticity, identity, and cooking adaptation ; Asian American ; authentic ; authenticity ; cooking ; home cooking ; identity ; recipe 6055 Impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on Khao Noodle Shop COVID ; Food + Wine ; Khao Noodle Shop ; pandemic 6439 Opening Darkoo's Chicken Shack Asian American ; Asian flavors ; bridge ; food ; fried chicken ; recipes ; restaurant 7016 Yelp/Social media reviews restaurant reviews ; reviews ; social media ; Yelp 7863 Sirisavath discusses the concept of &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurants Asian restaurant ; business ; Khao Noodle Shop ; mom and pop ; restaurant 8072 Sirisavath discusses his mentors Food + Wine ; Lao food ; mentors “Digging In” explores how the growth of the Asian community coincided with the rise of “foodie culture” in Dallas, leading to unique opportunities for economic and social engagement between and among different Asian immigrant groups as well as with the larger Dallas community. |00:00:07| Brody This is Betsy Brody. Today is August 8th, 2022. I am interviewing for the first time Mr. Donny Sirisavath. 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 is part of the project entitled &quot ; Digging In: How Food, Culture and Class Shape the Story of Asian Dallas.&quot ; Donny, thank you for joining me for this interview. |00:00:37| Sirisavath Well, thank you for having me. |00:00:38| Brody Let&#039 ; s start out. Just where and when were you born? |00:00:42| Sirisavath My name is Donny, of course, you know. I was I was born in Amarillo, Texas, right after my parents were sponsored to Texas. To the United States where 1980 of August 13th. I grew up in Amarillo for a couple of years and then moved to San Antonio, Texas. |00:01:03| Brody Where did your parents come from? |00:01:05| Sirisavath From Laos. |00:01:06| Brody Where were they? Who were who were they sponsored by? |00:01:08| Sirisavath They were sponsored by a Baptist church in Amarillo, Texas. That church also sponsored a lot of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. At the time when my parents came was 1978, and when my parents came to Amarillo, Texas, it was just my mom and dad and I believe my grandma at the time. And then eventually, the rest of the family came here after. |00:01:37| Brody So you&#039 ; re a born native Texan? |00:01:39| Sirisavath Yes, native Texan. |00:01:41| Sirisavath But, you know, growing up in Amarillo, Texas, we have a lot of refugees. I felt like I was part of being a refugee myself, even though I didn&#039 ; t escape you know, Laos or Vietnam or Thailand. But I&#039 ; ve just felt like around, the people around me were all refugees and immigrants of different Southeast Asian countries. So I just felt like I was an immigrant. |00:02:01| Brody What parts of the refugee experience sort of struck you or resonated with you? |00:02:08| Sirisavath I think the, you know, growing up in a household that did not speak English. I mean, for me as a young child and, that&#039 ; s... That was my first language was Lao and then Thai eventually and English and, seeing my mom, my dad, just really struggling to make ends meet. So where my mom stayed at home, taking care of me, cooking at home, cooking to sell her food so she can have money to support the family as well, too. And also too, for me. But I think it&#039 ; s partly because she enjoyed cooking. You know, that&#039 ; s where, that was her language of love. It was through food. And I think a lot of people around the community knew that she knew how to cook and that she can help feed the community as well. And, you know, the whole refugee mentality is, you kind of barter with people. So my mom would cook and would get a vegetable from one of her friends or go to a friend&#039 ; s farm to get eggs. So it&#039 ; s like, it&#039 ; s that&#039 ; s what I knew what a refugee was, you know, being about immigrant. That you kind of help each other out, being part of a community that you don&#039 ; t know the language, you don&#039 ; t know the land of, the new land that you are living in. A new country. So I think that&#039 ; s part of where I kind of figured like, &quot ; I am. I think I&#039 ; m an immigrant.&quot ; But really, I wasn&#039 ; t. It&#039 ; s my parents were. |00:03:27| Brody What were the most popular items that your mom cooked and bartered with? |00:03:33| Sirisavath I mean, there was many things that she used to make. She usually...She was known for all her like sauces or dipping sauces and then also her desserts. I mean she was not trained as a chef or as a cook. She just learned a lot of stuff from her great, great grandma. And then, of course, her mom and, you know, for a lot of people that didn&#039 ; t know, and I didn&#039 ; t know myself, my mom was actually kind of privileged in Laos, apparently. I didn&#039 ; t know this. But so she learned some other cooking from her, I guess her nannies at the time in Laos. Her father was a well-educated person in Laos and so was my grandma. So she was, you know, went to private school kind of thing. And but she would come home and my grandma, great grandma would, you know, teach her how to cook and the nanny as well, too. But I think at a young age, that&#039 ; s what she grew up doing, cooking for all her siblings, which was twelve siblings, including her. So thirteen. So, yes, she was the oldest of her siblings. So being that way, the oldest usually always take care of the younger and I think that&#039 ; s part of the reason why she had to learn how to cook as well, too. |00:04:51| Brody How old was she when, in 78, when they came? |00:04:55| Sirisavath I believe she was and do my math. So she was 60 when she passed away, which was 2011. She came when she was, I believe, 28. 28. Yes. I know my math might be wrong, but I believe she was in her late twenties, early thirties when she came. But yeah, it was just her, my dad and my grandma and her sister and brother. And then after that, I was born two years later. In Amarillo. But yeah, her food was just phenomenal from what I&#039 ; ve heard when I was growing up. And, you know, I ate her food all the time at home, so I&#039 ; m very biased. And but, yeah. I would just always remember going with her to different people&#039 ; s houses and dropping off food. And also at like the Asian grocery stores, convenience stores, just dropping her weekly production of her food. And that was my childhood with her, you know. And sometimes at home, I was trying to mimic her, you know, pounding garlic or peppers in a pestle and mortar. And she was like, &quot ; What are you doing?&quot ; And I was like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m trying to help you, Mom.&quot ; I didn&#039 ; t know what I was doing. But, you know, that&#039 ; s our relationship, growing up, was in a kitchen. |00:06:13| Brody Yeah. So did you end up learning a lot about cooking? |00:06:17| Sirisavath Yes and no. I think as a young age, I think it was more like a like a playground. You know, I didn&#039 ; t have much toys. So, you know, my toy was kitchen toys. A pot, pan, a steamer, rice basket steamer, pestle, mortar. And I think that&#039 ; s because I would see my mom in the kitchen and she tries to keep me in the kitchen, so she keeps an eye on me because I was very mischievous and I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I want to see everything, touch everything.&quot ; So I think that&#039 ; s part of the reason why I stayed in the kitchen with her a lot. And yeah, as a younger child, you know, I didn&#039 ; t understand what I was doing until I grew up as a teenager moving to San Antonio and then seeing my mom running an actual restaurant. |00:07:00| Brody Yeah. Tell me about that move to San Antonio. How old were you and what kind of restaurant? |00:07:06| Sirisavath I was eight years old when we left Amarillo, Texas, to San Antonio. But at the time, every other summer, we would usually travel from Amarillo to San Antonio to help because my dad was involved in a Buddhist temple in San Antonio, and he actually was the main person that actually built the temple. I didn&#039 ; t know my dad was very good with his hands or like that. He was super handyman, building things without using designs. I was just kind of baffled by that. So I mean, that was our summers. And then finally the monk at the time in San Antonio was like, &quot ; Hey, why don&#039 ; t you just go ahead and move to San Antonio? Might be a better life for you and your family, especially kids.&quot ; And then, yeah, we left. And then my mom got the opportunity to open her own restaurant, knowing that everyone knows her. You know, she cooks phenomenal food. And there was a Chinese restaurant for sale at the time. And, you know, with all their savings, they went ahead and bought the restaurant. It was called Rama Garden if you ever look it up. It&#039 ; s off of, I believe, 281 and Callahan Road? I forget. I have to go back and remember that. But yeah, it was a Chinese restaurant. Not a Thai or Lao Restaurant. It was a Chinese restaurant. |00:08:32| Brody So, I mean, did she have to learn how to cook Chinese food? |00:08:35| Sirisavath Yes. So luckily, I believe there was a couple of recipes that was left behind from a previous owner, but a lot of stuff my mom was...That&#039 ; s when I knew my mom was not just a cook, she was a chef. You know, she&#039 ; d kind of look at a recipe and just make anything and everything. And it was just phenomenal. Just seeing how her mind and the skills that she had just making dishes she&#039 ; s barely read a recipe on. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh.&quot ; |00:09:02| Brody Maybe things she&#039 ; d never eaten. |00:09:04| Sirisavath Yes. And as well, too you know, Chinese American food was, you know, everywhere. But some Chinese foods are a little different than others. But so for her, it was more of understanding the culture and understanding where ingredients come from. I think that&#039 ; s where she...her food shined more than just your regular Chinese American food. And of course, she just put a lot of love and care into the food that she makes. |00:09:29| Brody Tell me your parents&#039 ; names. |00:09:31| Sirisavath My mom&#039 ; s name is Phaysane Sirisavath. My dad&#039 ; s name was ________ &quot ; Sam&quot ; Sirisavath. Their American name is &quot ; Sam.&quot ; My mom&#039 ; s American name was &quot ; Susan.&quot ; But then later after my mom passed away, I found out that that wasn&#039 ; t her real name. |00:09:47| Brody What do you mean? |00:09:48| Sirisavath So Phaysane was not her real name. That was a given name from my dad to get the sponsorship from Laos to America. Apparently. I don&#039 ; t know why, but I think I know why, but I maybe not need to say it at the time. But her real name was Vieng Sai. That&#039 ; s her real given birth name. Phaysane was my dad&#039 ; s ex-girlfriend&#039 ; s name. |00:10:13| Brody Oh boy. |00:10:14| Sirisavath So, yeah, this is something that I just learned after my mom passed away, and I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; All this time, I been calling my mom by a different name. My dad&#039 ; s ex-girlfriend&#039 ; s name.&quot ; |00:10:26| Brody It sounds like everybody was. |00:10:28| Sirisavath Yeah, I think it&#039 ; s in part because of leaving a Communist country. And, you know, part of reason why the change of names as well. |00:10:36| Brody Speaking of names, a lot of people who come from non-American cultures adopt an Americanized name. Is Donny your Americanized name? |00:10:48| Sirisavath Yeah. So and this is a funny story and true story. I don&#039 ; t have a Lao last name or a Thai last name or Asian name. My name is Donny from Donny and Marie, the singers. My mom came from a country where they loved American music. And listening and singing Donny and Marie, you know, that&#039 ; s one of the names that my mom, you know, one of the singers that my mom loved. So she was like, &quot ; If I have a boy, it will be Donny. If I have Marie. I mean, if I have a girl, it&#039 ; ll be Marie.&quot ; So. And it became a boy. |00:11:27| Brody Do you have a sister? |00:11:28| Sirisavath No. But my mom wanted me to be a girl, so they didn&#039 ; t want to hear about the sex. So they bought girl&#039 ; s clothing for me and everything. And I came out, &quot ; Oh, we have another boy.&quot ; Like, uh. So, there&#039 ; s some old pictures of me wearing some girl&#039 ; s sandals and shirts, I think. |00:11:46| Brody That&#039 ; s pretty funny. |00:11:47| Sirisavath And then there&#039 ; s a...I mean there&#039 ; s a saying, my mom always called me ____. _____ means like girl and ____, is like, my nickname. Instead of _____ because ____is a boy. And it&#039 ; s like, yeah. |00:12:00| Brody That&#039 ; s really funny. So how long was the restaurant open? The Rama Garden. |00:12:05| Sirisavath Rama Garden was open for I believe only a few years. It was a big, massive restaurant. That restaurant, I believe, was like 2500 square foot. It was, you know, it&#039 ; s an old Chinese restaurant. So you just imagine a Chinese restaurant that had your regular dining space. Then you go down the little stairs and like the little fountain in the middle, when you walk in, and you go downstairs to the smoking section. So, you know, hey, back in the day we had smoking section, non-smoking section. So that&#039 ; s one, the two parts of the restaurant. And then you go back underneath from the smoking section, there was a party room like a big, massive party room. So that restaurant&#039 ; s humongous, I think. And I think the location really was the cause of why my mom closed. It was facing the backside of 281. And so I think that&#039 ; s part of the reason why that restaurant didn&#039 ; t succeed. But, you know, like the food was amazing. I think, because and also finding workers at the time. You know, having a family business is not always the greatest thing. Because, you know, with me being young, I have experienced a lot of things through that restaurant from family business, you know, brothers and sisters arguing, aunts, uncles, you know, arguing, parents arguing. I saw all of that. And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Whoa, what&#039 ; s going on here?&quot ; And you know that, it breaks the family apart. But, you know, at the end of the day, my mom&#039 ; s like, &quot ; You know what? It&#039 ; s just too much stress on the family and myself. Let&#039 ; s go ahead and close this and I&#039 ; ll figure things out after that.&quot ; |00:13:36| Brody What did she do after that? |00:13:37| Sirisavath So after that, she just kind of just went around and consulting different restaurants in San Antonio and she partnered up with a friend of hers doing &quot ; Taste of the Orient.&quot ; And this was the pretty much the Panda Express Chinese restaurants in shopping malls. She ran two stores. One was in Windsor Park Mall, which was the one I always helped her out. This was when I was in middle school, actually, I&#039 ; m sorry, starting middle school into high school. So I would, you know, after I get off of school, she would pick me up and now I&#039 ; d go to the restaurant and help out. You know, ring customers up, serving customers. And then there&#039 ; s sometimes where we&#039 ; ll switch, my mom goes in the front, and I&#039 ; ll go in the back and start cooking. And I think that&#039 ; s where I started more of cooking in the restaurant. Because that Rama Garden, I was just, I was just a child running around, busing tables, giving customers water. And, you know, I&#039 ; ll get tipped, I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Okay, I like this.&quot ; You know, I was like looking for customers to fill water. I would do that. But yeah, &quot ; Taste of Orient&quot ; was where I really got my hands dirty, inside the kitchen, learning how to work the wok, cooking fried rice. You know, Sweet and Sour Chicken, General Tso&#039 ; s chicken. You know, it&#039 ; s just a basic common Chinese American food. But I learned a lot, you know. |00:15:01| Brody Now, what did you learn? |00:15:04| Sirisavath Patience and cooking and temperature control. And that&#039 ; s the thing I&#039 ; ve learned about, like, wok. And you know, wok, it&#039 ; s where you have to really understand the fire, the movement of when you&#039 ; re using a wok. And you can leave stuff there, it&#039 ; ll burn. There are some things you can leave there and it won&#039 ; t burn. So oil temperature, you know, it&#039 ; s very scientific of cooking, but at the end of the day, it was just kind of the feel of cooking. If you understand your temperature, your motions, you kind of understand the way of cooking. And I think wok cooking that&#039 ; s the way of &quot ; the wok of life.&quot ; |00:15:41| Brody At that point also were you and your mom cooking together at home? |00:15:44| Sirisavath Yeah. You know, and part of it was learning in the kitchen when we would go home, my mom would always cook our home cooked meals, which was Lao food, Thai food. You know, and sometimes, some Chinese food and French foods and Italian food that she loved. But, at home was more about the home cooked meals. So sit down dining with family. You know, me, my brothers, my dad, my mom. You know she&#039 ; ll just...And there are sometimes where she was busy, so she&#039 ; ll cook before she leaves to work for us like every refugee immigrant parents. They always do that because they have to work and sometimes, they can&#039 ; t take us to school. So my mom taught me how to cook eggs and rice at home. So then she&#039 ; d be like, &quot ; Hey. I already washed the rice for you. You all have to cook and cook your eggs.&quot ; Or sometimes noodles. Something very basic. At the time. And then eventually she started showing me how to make sauces, like, you know, making like laab, which is like meat salad, chicken salad as well too. And like doing Tum Mak Hoon, which is like papaya salad because that&#039 ; s a technique that you... It takes years to learn and master it. I&#039 ; m still trying to master it. But it was one of those things that she kind of taught me. But the real things that she taught me was that you have to be in tune of your own culture to understand the ingredients and involvement when you make the food. I think at a young age, I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t understand, Mom, I just want to eat.&quot ; Yeah, I don&#039 ; t need this culture, life lessons. You know, being a teenager, stubborn teenager, don&#039 ; t want to listen to your parents. So that&#039 ; s where I was at. |00:17:21| Brody Yeah. I mean, it&#039 ; s a common thing with immigrant kids, and the children of refugees who are growing up American. It&#039 ; s hard to find that balance of figuring out your American self and leaning into learning about your culture. |00:17:37| Sirisavath So yeah, I think every immigrant child goes through that. I think part of it, you know, you see a lot of these movies now where you see the immigrant child bringing lunch to school. I was those immigrant child where they have whoa, we bring something that&#039 ; s ethnic for us that we eat at home to school, and we get looked at weird. Or &quot ; What&#039 ; s that smell like?&quot ; It&#039 ; s fish sauce. Like, &quot ; Why are you eating fish sauce? Why is there that sauce that&#039 ; s made from fish and all this stuff?&quot ; And, you know, I&#039 ; ve...You feel like you get bullied when you&#039 ; re in school and especially in that something that you grew up eating. And coming from Amarillo, it&#039 ; s very immigrant driven, refugee driven to a city that&#039 ; s not the same immigrants or different immigrants than where you&#039 ; re used to. So I was just in the school was predominantly Whites, Hispanics, Black. Hardly any Asians. So for me I had to feel like I need to fit in. So I was always telling my mom, &quot ; Mom, can I get sandwiches instead for lunch?&quot ; She said, &quot ; Why do you need sandwich? Like you eat the food that we have left over for dinner.&quot ; That&#039 ; s the way of immigrant families, refugee families to save money. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No. I don&#039 ; t want to take my leftovers to school, mom, I want sandwiches and chips and stuff like that because all my friends.&quot ; And then my mom says OK. So she made me a sandwich one day, I took it to school. My friends, like &quot ; Your sandwich looks different.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like &quot ; Why? Like it&#039 ; s the same sandwich as you guys.&quot ; So the ham that my mom made for me was a Vietnamese ham, Cha Lua. It&#039 ; s like, you know, the pork ham that you put in banh mis. So my mom...That was the ham that-- she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; It&#039 ; s ham. This is ham I&#039 ; m used to.&quot ; You know, it was just with mayo, cheese, and Vietnamese ham and, you know, Mrs. Baird&#039 ; s bread. Like it&#039 ; s a sandwich. She got it, right? Well, yeah. |00:19:45| Brody Was it good? |00:19:45| Sirisavath It was for me. It, for me it was good. But for me, eating that sandwich in front of my friends, it didn&#039 ; t feel good because I would still get picked on. But I would let my friend try, like, &quot ; Well this is pretty good. Like, what&#039 ; s this?&quot ; And this has fish sauce in it. But yeah. So that transitional phase from San Antonio, I kind of lost my identity a little bit, so I can adapt to my environment. Now, I think that&#039 ; s part where a lot of immigrants&#039 ; child that grows up as immigrant but then lives in an environment that&#039 ; s not predominantly westernized. So yet we have to fit in. I think that&#039 ; s where I kind of lost, you know, my culture, lost myself, wanted to be more White, Hispanic, Black versus Asian. You know, a lot my friends, when I&#039 ; m growing up and are like, &quot ; What are you? Laos, Thai...Like, what&#039 ; s that?&quot ; Like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m Asian.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Okay, but where&#039 ; s it at?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Laos is next to Thailand, Vietnam.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Okay, all right.&quot ; I was like, &quot ; Did you guys learn in geography class?&quot ; So I was tired of explaining myself for a little bit at the time. So me growing up, a lot of people thought I was Hispanic. I look Hispanic, especially growing up in San Antonio. So I just kind of like, &quot ; Yeah. I&#039 ; m Mexican.&quot ; For much of my middle school years until like, until some of my friends came to my house and they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; What do you got to eat?&quot ; We&#039 ; ve got like, oh, &quot ; You know, I have chips, but they&#039 ; re shrimp chips. You know, I have a jerky, but it&#039 ; s Asian jerky or pork floss. And I have rice, you know, rice cake that&#039 ; s been dehydrated and fried. And then our Vietnamese ham and the sausage, cured sausage my mom makes. You know, pork sausage.&quot ; And they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; This is not. This is not Hispanic food. So, you&#039 ; re not Hispanic?&quot ; Like, &quot ; You know, Asian. I keep on telling you guys.&quot ; So, yeah. So it was a loss. Loss in identity for a little bit. But I think growing up, more and more around my mom and being, seeing her struggle to open her different, you know, restaurants and working out like, &quot ; You know what? Yeah, I&#039 ; m Asian. I&#039 ; m Asian.&quot ; . |00:22:09| Brody Yeah. I mean, that&#039 ; s a thing that comes up a lot in these conversations that I&#039 ; m having is the role that food plays in communicating culture. What are your thoughts around the power or role of food to tell people or teach people about your culture? |00:22:27| Sirisavath I think. You know, food is, literally, the bridge, you know, to bridge a gap in culture, I think everyone can resonate with someone through food. I think that&#039 ; s part of my mom&#039 ; s teaching was when she opened, finally opened, her third and last restaurant was which was Bai Bua. She did Thai food, and she did Thai food her way. And I think a lot of times, you know, she got...In a way, she can kind of like, &quot ; Well, you&#039 ; re not Thai, you&#039 ; re Lao, you&#039 ; re making Thai food.&quot ; But, you know, there are a lot of people making different kind of food. But for her, at the time, in order for people to understand what the food was, she had to make Thai food. It&#039 ; s like every culture, right? Well, we start off, a lot of Chinese restaurants were well known in America, and not people know, not much people know our food. So what do you have to cook first? You have to cook something that&#039 ; s prevalent and common in your community. So that&#039 ; s what my mom did was cook Thai food because we grew up in a Thai community in San Antonio. So, but that&#039 ; s how my mom is. She creates Thai food but creates her own way. But the way, that&#039 ; s...magnificent way. But that&#039 ; s her way of showcasing that you can&#039 ; t just be one ethnic group to make a different ethnic group food. You can be any type of ethnic food as long you take your time, effort to, you know, immerse yourself in a culture. I think that&#039 ; s what it was with her. So with her making Thai food and letting people know like this is part of Lao culture as well too, because Lao and Thai has a close, close, close identity within each other. And a lot of food to this day, a lot of Lao food, are immersed into Thai food, but Thai food is only known for Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Pad Kee Mow, these basic dishes. But then, like when you say &quot ; laab.&quot ; Laab is actually a dish that was created from a lot of immigrants that lived in Nong Khai or like east of Thailand, which is the Isan province, right? So those foods started to trickle into Thailand and eventually now it&#039 ; s called Thai food. But for me, I think Lao food needs to be showcased a little bit more. I think that&#039 ; s where we&#039 ; re having a conversation now, is that in order for us to have an identity, we have to showcase our food to the masses and to the world. Because if we don&#039 ; t have an identity, you know, someone else can take our identity from us. So I think that&#039 ; s where food resonates for people like and then it becomes a storytelling, it becomes a conversational piece versus just, &quot ; Hey, this is good food.&quot ; Where is it from? Like it&#039 ; s from Laos and a Lao person makes it now versus a Thai person or Chinese or whatever. But the thing is now, I think that&#039 ; s part of why I&#039 ; ve created Khao Noodle Shop was that I wanted to represent my culture, my upbringing, also, mainly my mom, my inspiration for cooking to this day. I think she was before her time. She, you know, she was creating dishes. I mean, Thai dishes, Chinese dishes, Lao dishes, French dishes. Magnificent in her own kind of way. I think at the time there&#039 ; s no worldwide web where you can just &quot ; Hey...this person&#039 ; s the best chef.&quot ; And like other times, she was the best chef. I think her restaurant was nominated best Thai food in San Antonio for, I think, two or three consecutive years. And, you know, that tells you that she knew what she was doing. But also a Lao person making that type of food was some like, you know, like no one heard of what a Lao person is. And then eventually she started making Lao dishes on her menu. Part of it because I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Mom, like, why? Why do you not make stuff you make at home?&quot ; You know, I was like. A part of it because, yeah, we&#039 ; re in a Thai community. We go to a Thai temple, but a lot of Thai. You know, a lot of Lao people go to the Thai Temple, too, because, you know, our religion is the same, Buddhism. So we have a Buddhist temple. They all come together. I think that&#039 ; s what the community should be versus, you know, your Indian, Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, you know, we&#039 ; re all Asian. So no matter who we are, we always can be, you know, immersed within our own cultures through food. I think that&#039 ; s where the ultimate reflection and history is behind cooking, because we use a lot of spices from India that, you know, migrated from India, like literally trading spice and trading recipes. I think that&#039 ; s what our community is about. You know, we don&#039 ; t take from each other, we share with each other. I think that&#039 ; s where our growth comes from, from a community of food and a language of food. |00:27:32| Brody That&#039 ; s great. Can you describe to me Lao food for someone who never had it? How would you describe Lao food? |00:27:43| Sirisavath So a lot of people ask me these questions. Like Lao food is very bright and vibrant because the flavors. The flavors are very bold. Very bold and funky, right? That everyone knows that we use a lot of fish sauce, fermented fish sauce as well. Shrimp paste, fermented crab. I think the reason why our food is a lot on the funkier side because preserving. Preservation. A lot of villagers are you know, there&#039 ; s no refrigerator in the village, there&#039 ; s no electricity in a village. So a lot of that stuff becomes fermentation curing to preserve what you have for the season. And that&#039 ; s the old school kind of way of teaching of how you keep your gathering from fall for summer, so on, so forth. It&#039 ; s the old teaching, right? And I think this day, everyone&#039 ; s doing this fermentation and curing and pickling, but that&#039 ; s the old way of saving food for the family. I think for a lot of food wise, we just kind of have it where it&#039 ; s you can cure or ferment everything right. If you want to sun dry some tomatoes, that&#039 ; s what we do. And like seaweed, but not seaweed, but river weed. We like to you know, sun dry, river weed so we can use it in different ingredients. Because, you know, being a landlocked island or land where we don&#039 ; t have that much accessibility to seafood, but we have a lot of rivers. Mekong River, to be an example, one, the biggest river in Southeast Asia, you know, a lot of fishermen fish off the Mekong River. So in order for them to make dishes better or have that umami was create fish sauce. I think that&#039 ; s where our food is about...It&#039 ; s gathered, you know, foraging off the land, fermenting, preserving off the land because villages are small in Laos. There&#039 ; s, you know, maybe a hundred members in a village, two hundred, three hundred members in a village at a time. So every province, every north, southern, central of Laos, every different type of cuisine and type of way of making Lao food. It&#039 ; s like you have Hmong food, which is more northern end of Lao and you know, there are more ____ on the Chinese side. So a lot of fermentations are, you know, driven from Chinese, southern Chinese, fermentation or curing. Like the tofu, you know, tofu or bean. That&#039 ; s kind of like something that&#039 ; s brought from Hmong culture because, you know, you have to preserve things. And I think that&#039 ; s what Lao food was about- preserving your food, preserving your history, preserving your culture. And so when people ask, &quot ; Well, why do you guys use a lot of fish sauce?&quot ; I think that that&#039 ; s the reason why, because that&#039 ; s part of our preservation of our culture and we use that for everything. Fish sauce is love of life. And then of course, sticky rice. Sticky rice is our starch, you know, our bread. That we use as often as much as everything else. It&#039 ; s our bread to Americans, right? It&#039 ; s cheap and it&#039 ; s easy to be grown. So that&#039 ; s why you hear a lot about sticky rice in Lao food. And we use that as a vessel to like dip and scoop our meals and our food that we eat with. And we eat with our hands quite a bit. And you know, the transition from that, you know, from the village foods that are known for villagers, eating you know I&#039 ; ll call it &quot ; farm raised&quot ; but &quot ; village raised&quot ; chicken or pork, is that that&#039 ; s what they&#039 ; d have for maybe the week or a month whatever. So, you know, that&#039 ; s why we some of the chicken that we use are younger chicken or a younger hen, so it&#039 ; s called the ____ Gai it&#039 ; s like chewy meat, but it&#039 ; s stewed down. So there&#039 ; s different types of variation of meats that we use for different things. I mean Lao food is a little complicated to explain, but I think for us it&#039 ; s more about utilizing what&#039 ; s around us. Same as us, right? As my mom being an immigrant from Laos, she didn&#039 ; t have the ingredients that she had from in Laos. So she had to adapt, adapt to her environments, where I don&#039 ; t have the fish sauce that I had at home, so then I&#039 ; ll have to ferment my own here. And the type of fish is different from what I have in Laos. Different ingredients. Basil, mint has different breeds of mints and basils here. Peppers same thing. So she had to adapt to her surrounding environment to make the Lao dishes that she craved or made at home back in Laos. So the word &quot ; authenticity&quot ; right? That&#039 ; s where everyone talks about this. So it&#039 ; s like, oh, when they come to my restaurant to Khao Noodle Shop, &quot ; That&#039 ; s not the Lao food. It&#039 ; s not authentic.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; It&#039 ; s authentic to me.&quot ; And then I think to my upbringing to where I can showcase my individuality in the dish versus making a homemade meal of like Mok Pa or laab, which is like a steamed fish or chicken salad, right. Or like the Tam Mak Hoong is because every household makes things differently. And I have this argument every time with my friends or people of my ethnic background, telling me that this is not true Lao food or not true Thai food. It&#039 ; s everything is like an art piece, right? It&#039 ; s subject to your interpretation. Food is art, right? So that&#039 ; s the thing that I need to let people understand. Like this is my individuality, making my masterpiece and making my art piece. You can think what you need to think, but in essence and true essence for myself, this is what I believe is the best for me and best for my business. And I think that&#039 ; s what needs to be the language of the culture is through the food. If it is through food, you make, if it&#039 ; s honest within yourself and authentic within yourself, then the food is authentic for yourself, and it doesn&#039 ; t need to be authentic for anyone else. But as long you stay true to yourself and about the food you make, the culture, the love for your culture, I think that&#039 ; s authentic enough for me. |00:34:11| Brody Yeah. I mean, it sounds like even what you were saying about the sort of the cultural context of Lao food, a lot of the food traditions, it sounds like, came out of necessity of preservation. And you also mentioned regional differences depending on what grows or what you can get. So, and also your mom, you know, when your mom&#039 ; s cooking, she was putting her own spin on it based on the ingredients that she could find. So, I mean, I will come back to the question of authenticity. But it does sound like, especially in a tradition where there&#039 ; s a lot of home cooking that is being transformed into restaurant meals, that that would be an area of controversy. |00:34:57| Sirisavath Yeah. Most definitely. |00:34:59| Brody So after you finished high school in San Antonio and then what happened next? |00:35:08| Sirisavath So after...I actually dropped out of high school. So I dropped out of high school, met a girl at the time. I don&#039 ; t want to go into details. Anyways. So I mean, at the time my mom was running operating Bai Bua, which was her Thai restaurant. So &quot ; bai bua&quot ; is the lotus leaf. So it&#039 ; s like you know where the lotus leaf blossoms and becomes a lotus. So that&#039 ; s Bai Bua. So I&#039 ; ve always helped my mom at the restaurant after school when I can or when I feel felt like it. You know, being a teenager and don&#039 ; t really want to work. And you know, I have some regrets about not helping my mom each and every single day that I could, because I&#039 ; m going through that struggle because it&#039 ; s hard to find help, hard to find staff right now. So my mom, same way it was hard to find workers that can deal with her first of all because she&#039 ; s a very perfectionist person and she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; This is my dish, don&#039 ; t mess it up&quot ; kind of thing. So she&#039 ; s very...I wouldn&#039 ; t call her a dictator, but when it comes to food, she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; This is my food, don&#039 ; t mess it up.&quot ; But yeah, so I help my mom for, for a little bit. At the time, I was still in high school, about to finish high school, and I decided to drop out. My mom wanted to know why I was dropping out of school. She was like, &quot ; You&#039 ; re like our...not our last hope. But you know, you were born here. There is no reason why you should not finish school.&quot ; But I think part of part of the reason why I didn&#039 ; t finish school was, you know, I kept on moving from, you know, Amarillo, learning English a late age, got held back in first grade, not speaking English as much as I should because my mom was an immigrant. She didn&#039 ; t know English. So for her, it was hard for her to teach me English at home. So I think part of why I grew up, when I grew up, I felt like again, I felt like I was a refugee because I did not have the proper education of most kids. Home schooling, you know, from my mom and moving from Amarillo to San Antonio that was a, I want to say I felt like I was uprooted from my country. That&#039 ; s what it felt like because I moved to a city that I had no friends, very different from my upbringing in Amarillo, Texas. So a lot more Hispanic nationalities and not many immigrants. And culture wise, I was kind of culture shocked. Where am I at? You know, San Antonio is very, you know, Hispanic culture, Mexican culture. I loved it, though, but it was it was to where I didn&#039 ; t know the language as well because, you know, all my friends spoke Spanish. I&#039 ; ll go to my friend&#039 ; s house ; their parents will speak Spanish to me. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Si.&quot ; You know, like and actually this is kind of going off subject, but one day I was eating at my friend&#039 ; s house, and I forgot what dish she made for us but just was so amazing. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Ms. ___, what dish is this?&quot ; Like, &quot ; You&#039 ; ve never had that before? Like, your parents don&#039 ; t cook their home for you?&quot ; Like, &quot ; No.&quot ; So, like &quot ; What do they cook for you?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Lao food.&quot ; &quot ; Lao food? Like what do you mean Lao food?&quot ; Like, &quot ; Yeah, I&#039 ; m Lao. I&#039 ; m Thai.&quot ; . She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; No, no, it&#039 ; s Chino. What? I thought all this time you&#039 ; re Mexican.&quot ; Like, no, you know, no I&#039 ; m Asian. |00:38:51| Brody That&#039 ; s funny. |00:38:52| Sirisavath Well, yeah, so, I mean, that was. It was funny, but she still loved it. |00:38:56| Brody What dish was it? |00:38:57| Sirisavath I forgot what it was. Like literally, it&#039 ; s kind of...Because I never had it, you know? I never had it. And I only had it at my friend&#039 ; s house. It was just like a stew. It was not pozole. It was similar. But it was like green, like stewy dish. Like it was so good and ever since then we&#039 ; re like I thought...It felt like I just like broke her heart. But she was funny about it. But yeah. So going back to, you know, leaving school after dropping out, my mom gave me an opportunity. It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Well, since you&#039 ; re not going to go to school, at least you can work. So here&#039 ; s the keys to the restaurant.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Huh? What?&quot ; &quot ; Happy birthday.&quot ; And like, it was my birthday too at the time. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What do I with this?&quot ; Mom&#039 ; s like, &quot ; I want you take over the restaurant.&quot ; Like how? Like, I was like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know, Mom.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, I literally was speechless at the time. Not just that, because it was just a flattering gift. It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Wow. You trust me to run a restaurant for you, Mom?&quot ; Wow. But then again, like, I felt guilty because I didn&#039 ; t help her at the restaurant as much I should. So I think that more of the guilt kind I gave the key back to her. You know? So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Yeah, I don&#039 ; t think can do this, mom. It&#039 ; s a lot of stress, a lot of work that goes into it. You know, I just want to experience life for myself. I want to find myself.&quot ; And she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Well, hopefully you can find yourself because, you know, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; I understand.&quot ; But I needed something for myself. And that time, I have a girlfriend. And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I want to spend time with her.&quot ; And so my mom&#039 ; s like, &quot ; I guess I have to sell the restaurant then.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Yeah, I guess you have to. I&#039 ; m sorry.&quot ; So she sold the restaurant. I kind of just kind of, trying to experience life for myself, worked at, you know, Jack in the Box for a little bit, worked at a carwash, and then worked at Benihanas. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Ok. Well, I&#039 ; m good at working in the restaurant,&quot ; so went to work at Benihana for a little bit. Experienced learning how to, you know, do teppanyaki, hibachi chef and then worked there for a little bit in Austin. I wasn&#039 ; t... Because at the time they were about to open a location in San Antonio, so I&#039 ; ll drive to Austin to train. They had an apartment building for us to stay in, but there was like ten people were staying at that apartment. It was like a two- or three-bedroom apartment. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m not going to sleep on the sofa.&quot ; I was like, &quot ; Ughhh.&quot ; So I decided to sleep on my car. Yeah. So I was living in my car for probably close to a month. But I would go into the apartment to, like, take a shower or use restroom before our shifts. Sometimes I just go to a gym. I would sign up for like a week&#039 ; s free trial just so I can take a shower, wash my face, and stuff like that. So because I mean, San Antonio is not that far from Austin and it&#039 ; s a good for me, at the time where I was living at, it was a good hour drive. So instead of driving back home an hour, sometimes I just, &quot ; I&#039 ; ll sleep in my car. It makes more sense.&quot ; Plus, I had no gas money to go back and forth all the time. And save money for just living my car. So I did that for a little bit and just got burnt out, tired and where for me, I felt like it wasn&#039 ; t worth it because, you know, losing sleep from sleeping in my car. Plus my car broke down on me. So, like alright, time to go back to San Antonio. So I went back to San Antonio. My brother&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What are you going to do with your life?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know.&quot ; So he said, &quot ; Well, come work with me.&quot ; So then that&#039 ; s when I had a job with him working on airplanes. I didn&#039 ; t know anything about airplanes. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What? Do I need school this? You know, like a degree?&quot ; Like, &quot ; No. I got you.&quot ; Okay. And so then I worked at Performance Aviation, doing a field service technician. So my job was primarily fixing fuel tanks. Anything on planes that involves fuel, which is the wings, the belly, we take care of that stuff. So structure leaks, any kind of fastener leaks, we have to seal up the tanks to make sure there&#039 ; s no fuel leaks. So I did that for a couple of years. Travelled a lot, experienced life for myself at a young age at 17, yeah, 17. Worked there for about two years and then came back to San Antonio, left that job, or almost got fired from that job. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No. I&#039 ; m not getting fired. I quit. Y&#039 ; all worked me too much.&quot ; But yeah, I worked a lot at that job and then I didn&#039 ; t know what to do with life. Came back. I felt like I was lost. At nineteen, twenty years old, I didn&#039 ; t know what to do. Went to spend time with my brother in Florida, stayed with him for a little bit. At the time, I was online surfing the net when dialup was a thing, and then met a person on Asian Avenue, which was a like a Facebook for Asians. And then I met my girlfriend at time, Noy and she lived in Dallas. She was Lao. I was like, &quot ; I met a Lao person. Awesome.&quot ; So then kind of communicated, talked for about six, seven months. And then I was like, &quot ; You know what? I&#039 ; m going to move to Dallas. I need to get away from San Antonio. Experience something different.&quot ; Then, yeah, moved to Dallas, met up and never left. I&#039 ; m here in Dallas, but I think Dallas was something I missed from far as I grew up in Amarillo, in San Antonio, because Dallas was a city, especially Garland, a lot of Lao immigrants, and I think that&#039 ; s something I felt like I was missing as well, too. So I met so many Lao people when in Garland still to this day. So now I call Garland my hometown. |00:45:05| Brody What was the community like? The Asian community, the Lao community in particular at that time that you came? |00:45:11| Sirisavath It was...Literally was something I missed. I think growing up in San Antonio was an identity crisis because I didn&#039 ; t have much Lao friends. My Lao friends are more Thai, Isan so more Thai. And you know, the closest culture or ethnic group closest to Lao is Thai. And I&#039 ; m part Thai, but I feel like the Lao community is more my background, my culture, my people. And it was very received. Like I kid you not. When I first moved to Dallas, I met my girlfriend and then went to a house party. And later when I went to the house party, her brother gives me a beer. He&#039 ; s like...that&#039 ; s a sign of welcoming, right? And especially in the Asian community, Lao community because you know, we love to drink and party. That&#039 ; s what Lao culture is, and a lot of Lao culture is because we come together to celebrate life. I think that&#039 ; s where I miss because in San Antonio, it&#039 ; s like I&#039 ; m just trying to find myself. I think that was really my moment of like, I felt home. Like I never felt home in any other place than in Garland and Dallas. And the people I was surrounded with, you know, friends and people I&#039 ; d never met were so friendly, so friendly. Like, they made me feel welcome, made me feel like one of their boys that they grew up all, you know, for years. You know, I didn&#039 ; t go to high school here, or middle school here, but I felt like I did. And so now it&#039 ; s like that feeling of, &quot ; Oh, I&#039 ; m one you guys.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Yeah, you are, man. Like you&#039 ; re one of our boys.&quot ; To this day, you know, one of my good friends, you know, he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Man, you&#039 ; re a Garland boy, man. You know, you even though you didn&#039 ; t, wasn&#039 ; t in, you know and didn&#039 ; t go to school with us and whatnot,&quot ; this guy, he was like, &quot ; Yeah, man, you&#039 ; re a Garland boy. It&#039 ; s like you&#039 ; re part of us.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Thank you. I&#039 ; m in?&quot ; |00:47:10| Brody You fit in. |00:47:11| Sirisavath Yeah. |00:47:12| Brody So then what was the turning point for you to get back into the food business? |00:47:17| Sirisavath Yeah. So the turning point when I worked in Dallas for much different odd jobs and then, you know, eating at the house and was always at house parties all the time. So, eating at everyone&#039 ; s house meant eating that Lao food. I was like, &quot ; Wow. This...I miss this food.&quot ; It reminded so much of my mom&#039 ; s food as well too because after I dropped out of high school, I literally moved out of the house. So, I moved out when I was 17 years old and never looked back and never moved back. So then it kind of brought me home like, you know, when you&#039 ; re missing something, food is where it&#039 ; s home for you. That&#039 ; s what I tell people too, it&#039 ; s like, no matter where you are in the world, if you have that homecooked style meal, it makes you feel comfort and it gives you that hug in your stomach and eventually in your heart. Right? I tell people all the time, that&#039 ; s what my food&#039 ; s is trying to be. So yeah...So I felt like, you know, Lao food. I found my place. I found Lao food again. So then I started to experiment, cook at home again. I haven&#039 ; t cooked in a long time, so I start cooking and my mom came to visit me one time. She&#039 ; s like &quot ; Why&#039 ; d you move to Dallas?&quot ; Oh yeah. &quot ; Here is my girlfriend and stuff.&quot ; And I cooked a meal for her. It was Khao Poon which is vermicelli noodles, but it&#039 ; s with red curry, coconut stewed down with chicken, like chicken feet, pork blood. And I didn&#039 ; t have any chicken that time, I had canned tuna. Like &quot ; I got tuna. Here.&quot ; So I made it for her, and she looked at me. She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Who taught you to make this.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You did.&quot ; She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; I did not teach you how to make this.&quot ; I was like, well, &quot ; I watched you make it from afar, and I remember it when you made it. The smell, the taste. Figured that you put this in, put that in, and bam.&quot ; And she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Boy, you have something. Don&#039 ; t let it go to waste. You know how to cook. I&#039 ; m glad you&#039 ; re cooking again.&quot ; And she left it at that. And then a couple of years later, you know, also visits me and she&#039 ; s always cooking at home when she comes to visit us. And she&#039 ; s always dragging me in the kitchen, like, I was boy again. Like, &quot ; Come help me.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No, Mom. Now, that I&#039 ; m a grown adult, I won&#039 ; t help you.&quot ; But I would watch her, help her wash vegetables. You know, she would tell me how to cook this, how to watch for this temperature on this, you know, put your finger on it in the rice to make sure you have enough water, kind of, you know, the old school teaching of like I missed that as a child. And I think part of it, I think she knew she had a limited time left on this world. Backtrack because when she was back in Laos, she had a fortuneteller to read her fortune. And the fortune told her that she would die at a young age. Not young age, but at least at a certain time in her life. And I think that&#039 ; s what&#039 ; s always been in her mind. And eventually, I think that&#039 ; s part of the reason why she came to visit us so often. She lived in San Antonio and would drive every weekend, come visit us, stay a week or two and drive back. And I think that&#039 ; s, now that I think of it, I didn&#039 ; t know until she told us afterwards. So, her last trip was when she went to Thailand, came back- Thailand, Laos- came back and then we went to my best friend&#039 ; s wedding. Jack&#039 ; s wedding in Tennessee, and we had a good time, celebrating life. Saw my mom and dad dancing together. Hadn&#039 ; t seen them dance together in forever and the dance floor. It was a magical moment. And to this day, I never will ever forget that moment. And she came back home., starting to have jaundice. Like her eye was like yellow, bloodshot yellow. Skin was starting to turn yellow. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What&#039 ; s going on, Mom?&quot ; Took her to a hospital. You know, questions, the typical questions. &quot ; Where have you travelled?&quot ; So &quot ; Just came from Thailand, Laos.&quot ; Oh. Every time, &quot ; Hepatitis.&quot ; You know, like, that&#039 ; s like the number one thing that comes to doctors. &quot ; Oh, you went to Asia?&quot ; &quot ; Yeah, Hepatitis C or something.&quot ; And then they ran two tests it&#039 ; s like, &quot ; No, it&#039 ; s not hepatitis. Okay. We had to do in endoscopic surgery to see some maybe mass or something.&quot ; And they did something and found a blockage in her bile duct, and it was cancerous. And so I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; How do you get a tumor in a bile duct.&quot ; And it connects your bowel, your gall bladder, to your liver. So can&#039 ; t just remove it. Apparently, it&#039 ; s a surgery that&#039 ; s never done or is not...And there&#039 ; s only a few cases in America, like 1200, 1500 cases. So is a very rare, very rare cancer. And a doctor told us, like, &quot ; Oh, well, your mom has about a year and a half to two years to live. It&#039 ; s terminal.&quot ; Oh, it was heartbreaking. I think my mom kind of knew it, but she didn&#039 ; t know it was like going to be like this. And she stayed with us in Dallas. We took her to do chemotherapy each and every single day. She stayed with it with me and my brother at our house. So we always cooking, involving, talking, arguing. Most of the time, more than anything else, is more bickering then having a civil conversation. But yeah. Eventually she wanted to go back to San Antonio because, she knows, she&#039 ; s going to pass. She wants pass at home. And while cooking at home with my mom, she was telling me, you know, &quot ; I&#039 ; ll miss you. You know, I miss, I miss you, you know, cooking for me because I know that I won&#039 ; t have one of your meals ever again, because this would be my last time to cook with you. So come down and cook with me.&quot ; And she has a simple dish. Simple dish. It&#039 ; s one of her favorite dish was a bitter melon. She loves bitter melon. And she just, she does it different from everyone else. And she loved to cook it in eggs. She would put scrambled eggs and with the bitter melon. And she&#039 ; s sitting there teaching me and my brother, like &quot ; This how you do it.&quot ; Over and over every morning. Wake up. She would like two or three mornings, she would teach us this dish. And then one of her last dish that she taught me to make was sukiyaki. It&#039 ; s a sukiyaki sauce that she makes, and everyone loves her sukiyaki sauce. It&#039 ; s one of the best sauce, like she makes this... It&#039 ; s the essence of what kind of Lao culture is, but also influenced from Japanese, because sukiyaki is a Japanese word. But it was brought by the soldiers, Japanese soldiers in Laos, but it became something else. But my mom taught me how to make that sukiyaki, and that day was just about patience. I understood now, like when you cook, you have to have time and patience. You can&#039 ; t rush things because sukiyaki is a dish where you have to sit there and stir and stir and stir. I&#039 ; m talking about maybe an hour, hour, and a half at most. And my mom was like, &quot ; No, you got to. You can&#039 ; t walk away. You walk away, you&#039 ; re going to burn the peanuts and dry shrimp in there.&quot ; So you have to keep on stirring until where your coconut milk reduces, so separates from the oil, the coconut oil. So that&#039 ; s when you know your dish is ready and done. And so that&#039 ; s when the whole cooking, my feel for cooking came back again, was cooking that last dish for my mom. And to this day, I&#039 ; ve not perfected that dish, but I&#039 ; m close to it. And so I told myself and my mom&#039 ; s like, &quot ; I want you to cook. I want you to do something that&#039 ; s more meaningful to have purpose versus you just try to collect a paycheck and trying to find yourself. I think you found yourself just not looking hard enough.&quot ; And I think that was what it really started my cooking voyage to this day. So when she passed, I kind of dedicated my time to tell her story. And I know, at the time, even though I left all my jobs, and I landed a good job, which with HP being a field service engineer, even though I have no degree, but I have a lot of experience on computers and do a lot of computer jobs. I landed at that job. It was like a dream job, you know, work at home, have a company car, cell phone, laptops, you know, everything, you know, gas card and AMEX, like you name it. It was a dream job. But I felt still a void. And I just hear my mom&#039 ; s voice in my back of my head, it&#039 ; s like &quot ; Start cooking, you know, you&#039 ; ll find purpose.&quot ; And I think that&#039 ; s what happened. I started cooking more at home. And then eventually cooked for my friends. Had my friends come over you know, just have a meal. And they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Man, I didn&#039 ; t know you know how to cook. &quot ; Like, &quot ; I&#039 ; ve been cooking all my life. I just haven&#039 ; t cooked for you guys.&quot ; I think that&#039 ; s when the awakening happened was when my friends told me the dishes I was making was phenomenal. It was something as comforting. It was Lao, but in your own way. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Thank you. All right.&quot ; And then one of my buddies, Tang he&#039 ; s, like, &quot ; Man, why don&#039 ; t you just like do pop ups.&quot ; &quot ; What&#039 ; s pop ups?&quot ; You know, he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; A lot of chefs does that in, like, L.A., New York, underground food scene where they just get yourself noticed and their food noticed.&quot ; And this is where the food voyage comes from. It&#039 ; s cook at home, gather some friends together, have a conversation. And this is stuff...The point of our culture is within the food you serve and with our friends coming, having conversation, gathering, and understanding that Lao food can be something else. And that&#039 ; s where I&#039 ; m like the light bulb went out and went up, right? I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh, yeah. You know what? Maybe I just needed to do Lao food my way.&quot ; Have it where it&#039 ; s more creative, but also tells people who I am. I&#039 ; m Asian, Lao, Texan, American. So I can put myself in these dishes and showcase myself to the world and to what my mom taught me and what she inspired me to be. And that&#039 ; s where five became fifteen. Fifteen became twenty. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Alright. This condo is getting too small.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s when I started doing pop-up at my friend&#039 ; s bar. People&#039 ; s Last Stand. They had a bar and a small kitchen. Kind of made sense, like &quot ; You can make money off the bar. I can make money off the food and showcase my food.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s where it happened and it just kind of blew up. And I&#039 ; m just doing small dishes here and there. And I love, you know, Lao food has so much dishes that no one knows of. And also it tells a story of my upbringing and being Lao, Asian-American, Thai as well. So a lot of these dishes became my story and pop-ups lasted for about four years. And then one of my friends that helped me start up the pop-up was |00:59:22|Kai. He&#039 ; s actually Vietnamese, but he loves to cook, and we connect through food. And I think that&#039 ; s what another lesson is. You know, you build friendship through food as well, too. I think that&#039 ; s where our connection happened was through our, the food that we&#039 ; re making. And he started with me and then had another friend. So we never...We met, but not, physically. You know, we have mutual friends, but we haven&#039 ; t met physically. But, you know, he saw what I was doing. His name is Tex. And Tex was like, &quot ; Hey, man, I love what you&#039 ; re doing, dude. You let me know when you need help. I&#039 ; ll come and I&#039 ; ll help you on your pop-ups.&quot ; Okay. &quot ; Well, I&#039 ; m going to do pop-ups every other week, weekend, so come out.&quot ; So we did pop-up there around different friends&#039 ; bars. And then I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? I need to open a restaurant.&quot ; So I went back to Laos and Thailand, Cambodia. You know, just there, Southeast Asian like food trip. But it&#039 ; s just trying to explore what Southeast Asian food is, not just Lao food. And what, you know, type of chefs are doing and what type of foods are cooking. Because I don&#039 ; t have someone that I can rely on now because I don&#039 ; t have my mom. You know, I have my grandmom, but with her having dementia, her and her palate changed quite a bit. When she makes something, it&#039 ; s like overly salted, like, &quot ; Grandma, food&#039 ; s too salty.&quot ; But yeah, so for me it was go back home to my mom&#039 ; s, my homeland, motherland to experience for myself what Lao food, Thai food was about. And so then that&#039 ; s when I got the idea. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Okay, I know what I&#039 ; m doing.&quot ; I wanted to open a restaurant where it&#039 ; s communal space. Because that&#039 ; s what brings people together. Communal eating, which is the same thing my mom does. Brings the family together through communal eating. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Know what? Yeah. It makes sense.&quot ; To have a conversation with a stranger that&#039 ; s sitting next to you. Share a piece of rice or share a piece of this dish with the person next to you. And my mom was all that type of person. She&#039 ; s all sharing, regardless of if she&#039 ; d get money or not. So you know what? That&#039 ; s where I need to be. So I told Tex like, &quot ; I have idea for a restaurant. This is my idea. Listen.&quot ; He&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Okay, what&#039 ; s the idea?&quot ; So we&#039 ; re going to do noodles. A noodle shop. But going to be Lao inspired noodles and then small dishes like tapas style. He&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Okay, let me try and envision this. Alright, let&#039 ; s go to Thailand.&quot ; So we went to Thailand and like, you know, this is...The planning had happened already. The name happened. And you know like I had to have him to experience for himself. He hasn&#039 ; t been back to Thailand for like fifteen years. Immersed into the Thai foods and street foods and went to the suburbs because you know, suburb food&#039 ; s more like Isan food, which is the essence of Lao food. So he ate all this food and is like, &quot ; Okay, what&#039 ; s your plan?&quot ; &quot ; Like you see all these small bowls that they serve in? Like, this is my idea: to serve noodles in these small bowls so they can eat multiple noodles, different type of noodles, as much or as little as they want. So they can experience the menu, experience the culture, and experience the livelihood of street food in Asia, you know, primarily in Laos and Thailand.&quot ; He&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Man that&#039 ; s a great idea.&quot ; And so Khao happened. And we came back and forth on the name, so I mentioned &quot ; Khao,&quot ; but we went away from it and came up with a couple of names and &quot ; Khao&quot ; just resonated with me. And people ask me, &quot ; Why you came with Khao?&quot ; First off, &quot ; khao&quot ; is- it means &quot ; rice&quot ; in Laos and Thai. So that&#039 ; s the whole saying of &quot ; We&#039 ; re cheering on the rice farm instead of cheering on the corn farm.&quot ; Fields. So, rice is our life. We thrive and survive on off of rice. That&#039 ; s one thing, but also &quot ; khao&quot ; means like food. And then when you tell people to |01:03:40|______ gin khao, it&#039 ; s like &quot ; we come together to eat.&quot ; So it makes so much sense. &quot ; Khao.&quot ; That&#039 ; s the word for khao, bringing everyone together to enjoy a meal and have a conversational with a person that you might not know and becomes your friend, or so on and so forth. Like our journey as when we build a pop-up. You know, I didn&#039 ; t know, you didn&#039 ; t really know me, but we resonated with each other through the food we made. So that that&#039 ; s where Khao happened. |01:04:11| Brody That&#039 ; s really nice. Where was the restaurant located? |01:04:14| Sirisavath So we were going back and forth on looking location for Khao. My idea was a &quot ; hole in the wall&quot ; you know, like off the beaten path. And we&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Yeah, you know, maybe. Maybe a shopping strip somewhere with foot traffic.&quot ; I was like, &quot ; Nah, let&#039 ; s make it fun. Let&#039 ; s make a destination and find it.&quot ; And then Tex is like, &quot ; Well, let me reach out to one of our landlords and see if they know anything.&quot ; And then we reached out to a broker, but the broker doesn&#039 ; t work for them, works for another group. It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Well, what are you looking for?&quot ; Like, &quot ; We&#039 ; re look for a tiny, small space. Something that, you know, we&#039 ; re going to make this noodle shop, blah, blah, blah.&quot ; He goes, &quot ; Okay. I have a couple locations. One was in Bishop Arts, one of off of Walnut Hill off of 75, and then East Dallas.&quot ; It was the second location and we looked at. Like &quot ; East Dallas, like this looks so familiar.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Wait a minute. I know this neighborhood, like this neighborhood. I&#039 ; ve been through this neighborhood multiple times when I first moved to Dallas. You know, there used to be a lot of Cambodian refugees, Lao refugees, and Vietnamese here.&quot ; And Mai&#039 ; s...Iike, &quot ; Yeah. I remember Mai&#039 ; s.&quot ; And then I saw Jade Garden. &quot ; Oh Jade Garden! Like one of our friends had a wedding here, like, a long time ago.&quot ; And that neighborhood changed so much, I didn&#039 ; t recognize it. And so, I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what?&quot ; Then we looked at the space. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; That space is so tiny.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know.&quot ; And it was right next to Mai&#039 ; s. Mai&#039 ; s is a staple of East Dallas, been there, you know, almost 30 years. So, like, you know, &quot ; It&#039 ; s a lot of work. We&#039 ; ll have to turn this place down.&quot ; And, and so we, like, went back and forth, talked to my wife. She&#039 ; s like &quot ; Where is this location at?&quot ; &quot ; It&#039 ; s in East Dallas, it&#039 ; s right next to Mai&#039 ; s.&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Oh yeah, that was the first neighborhood that we were growing up in after we were sponsored from the International Rescue Committee and the Parkwood Baptist church where a lot of Southeast Asian groups were immigrant to.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What? Really?&quot ; And it&#039 ; s like kind, &quot ; There&#039 ; s some gardens there, too.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Yeah, that&#039 ; s the garden my brother was in Boy Scout. They helped build those gardens too.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Oh wait. No way.&quot ; So something just like, you know, butterflies in my stomach and I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? This is right. The right place. You know, it&#039 ; s an immigrant neighborhood that&#039 ; s been gentrifying. But let&#039 ; s be that new growth of this neighborhood, a full circle.&quot ; And so we decided to sign the lease and we signed a lease in February of 2017 and went to Thailand right afterwards to buy our supplies. Went to Laos, Thailand, bought our supplies. Our bowls, our equipment. Oh, yeah. It was crazy. And funny story, we have friends...His girlfriend had friends that went for a bachelor trip. So we had the girls used them as mules, I&#039 ; m sorry to say that, to bring equipment back for us. So we didn&#039 ; t have to pay for shipping because you had two bags, you know, luggage. So yeah, it was a whole experience to open that shop. And, you know, it&#039 ; s East Dallas next to Mai&#039 ; s. Catty-corner from Jimmy&#039 ; s Deli. Jimmy&#039 ; s Deli&#039 ; s been there for 50 years. And my wife was telling me, &quot ; I think I remember going to Jimmy&#039 ; s, and I think I stole some bubblegum from the store.&quot ; Like, &quot ; What?&quot ; So yeah. So that&#039 ; s that was the idea of what Khao could, you know, should have been. And we didn&#039 ; t anticipate the growth. You know, we&#039 ; re like, &quot ; You know, hopefully we&#039 ; ll be here for like, you know, two or three years and maybe we&#039 ; ll have people come and it&#039 ; ll be a line.&quot ; You know, we were just joking like, &quot ; Yeah, you know, we&#039 ; ll be that restaurant three years from now. People will be waiting outside two hours, three hours.&quot ; It happened the first year. |01:08:10| Brody Tell me how the restaurant was received. |01:08:13| Sirisavath Oh, yeah, that&#039 ; s how I mean...That restaurant, I mean, it blew up more than I expected. I reached out to a mutual friend at the time that runs Wabi House, Dien Nguyen. And he&#039 ; s been in the industry for a long time and especially in Dallas. And I&#039 ; m like asking him for mentorship pretty much. Like, &quot ; Where should I do? How should I do this? How can I get my name out?&quot ; And then he gave me a contact to his PR person, Teresa Nguyen. I reached out to her and talked to her, and she experienced the food that we made. &quot ; So your food&#039 ; s phenomenal. What can I do to help?&quot ; Yeah. So she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What can I do to help you guys?&quot ; We&#039 ; re like, well, &quot ; This is our game plan. We&#039 ; re going to open a noodle shop, and it&#039 ; s going to be tapas style, small portions, but it&#039 ; s going to be Lao style.&quot ; And she said, &quot ; Okay.&quot ; So, you know, I pretty much pitched her the idea. Two dudes, you know, have somewhat a background in restaurants. Tex runs his parents&#039 ; restaurants, Chicken Rice. It&#039 ; s more like a Chinese fried chicken and fried rice kind of thing. But his parents established that business for 30 years. So we kind of have I mean, background of restaurants from our parents&#039 ; restaurant to us running a real restaurant by ourselves. So we don&#039 ; t really have real restaurant experience. But, you know, she believed in our vision and dream that we have and then kind of set a path for the growth for Khao. You know, we invited... We had an intimate, about the size of this table, like eight press that came in to introduce what we&#039 ; re doing to, you know, get feedback as well too. Mainly get the feedback, not &quot ; Hey, here&#039 ; s... This is going to be the number one restaurant in the world&quot ; kind of thing. It was like &quot ; This is an introduction to Chef Donny. This is who he is, where he&#039 ; s coming from, where he&#039 ; s about.&quot ; So this is more, you know, it&#039 ; s storytelling than anything else. And just to get feedback. We made our handmade, fresh noodles that we always do for our pop ups. And then boat noodles which me personally, it feels like it&#039 ; s in my identity as growing up as a child, going back to Laos or Thailand, eating this noodle and off the boat with the ladies scooping it up. So it makes sense to have this dish. So we made this dish, made a couple other dishes. Sakoo, which is a tapioca dumpling, hand-rolled, with peanuts, pickled radish. And then everyone&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What the heck is this?&quot ; I was, like, it&#039 ; s tapioca, radish, and peanuts.&quot ; Like, &quot ; How? It&#039 ; s so sweet and savory at the same time.&quot ; And then I made one of my mom&#039 ; s favorite dessert, which is like a--if you ever go to dim sum--that ginger or tofu? Yeah. So it was like one of her favorite things to eat, that I made in my own interpretation, my way. And I made it cold instead of hot. So I made dessert and it was very well received, good feedback, met at the time Eve, she was a D Magazine food writer, and she just talked to me, was like, &quot ; I&#039 ; ve never eaten a meal like this before. I feel like there&#039 ; s a lot of love and care into this. So I can&#039 ; t wait to, for you to open this restaurant.&quot ; And then planned everything, opened the restaurant, and did a friends and family soft opening. It was, you know, pretty well-received. A lot of feedback. A lot of negative feedback. Of course, you know, &quot ; You&#039 ; re not doing Laos food. You&#039 ; re not...This is not traditional and whatnot.&quot ; But yeah, I mean, we didn&#039 ; t anticipate it and then Eve wrote a nice article for us and, then everything from there kind of went up. From Eater, one of the best new restaurants of2019 and then to the big one, Bon Appetit. Like, you know...And then at the time I was talking to my chef mentor, I call her my &quot ; chef mom&quot ; which is Chef Seng and she&#039 ; s the pioneer for like Lao food to be progressive in this modern day. And you know she opened her Lao restaurant in the capital, DC. So I looked at her as, you know, a mentor and also getting feedback from her about what I&#039 ; m doing, how things. And when I told her about Bon Appetit, she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; You better get ready.&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Why?&quot ; Because they usually announce their first, you know, fifty best restaurants and then their ten best new restaurants. I was like, &quot ; Wow, really? Okay.&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, I didn&#039 ; t know. I don&#039 ; t you know, I&#039 ; m not in the food industry like that. You know, I grew up in a restaurant, but not just in this big stage like that. And she&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Just get ready.&quot ; So okay, for me, I&#039 ; m thinking, &quot ; Okay, we&#039 ; ll be part of the fifty. I think I&#039 ; m fine with that.&quot ; You know. Okay. Fifty came up. &quot ; Where are we at? Okay, maybe we didn&#039 ; t make it.&quot ; Okay then a ten came out. Like, &quot ; We&#039 ; re not part it. Wait, no, wait. There&#039 ; s only seven. Oh, there&#039 ; s a top three, too. Like what? Well, wait, wait, hold on.&quot ; There&#039 ; s fifty, ten. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; So you&#039 ; re telling me we could be part of this top three?&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Oh my God.&quot ; And, like, I kid you not. Like, they did an interview. I didn&#039 ; t know what that interview was for. Now I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh, maybe this is just what it was for.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Why you guys didn&#039 ; t tell me?&quot ; They had been, you know, very secretive. And when the announcement came up, you know, top three restaurant in the United States, you know, number three, number two. &quot ; What? We&#039 ; re the number two restaurant in a country?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh my God.&quot ; I lost it. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Wow.&quot ; |01:14:26| Brody What was your reaction? |01:14:27| Sirisavath I just, I couldn&#039 ; t believe it. I just couldn&#039 ; t believe it. Like number two restaurant. Lao food. Lao restaurant. Like, how is that possible? Konbi is a Japanese sandwich shop. We were number two. Lao restaurant. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; How the heck? How?&quot ; |01:14:44| Brody That&#039 ; s incredible. Congratulations on that. You mentioned not having come into the food industry through culinary school and all of that and, you know, but rather growing up in a restaurant. How did that make you feel to win a big chef award? |01:15:09| Sirisavath For me, I was speechless. And also, I mean, I was proud at the moment, but also, I felt like I&#039 ; ve done justice for our culture and especially for Lao culture, right? And then I left at that for that moment. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? I&#039 ; m doing it just for all of us, for all Southeast Asian, not just Lao culture, but all Southeast Asian culture. Because we always get overlooked and, you know, we always get Japanese food, Korean food, Chinese food. But never Southeast Asian, no Indian, no Cambodian, no Lao, no Vietnamese. You know, Vietnamese are getting their moment. You know, Philippines getting their moment. But Lao food, Cambodian food, no one knows. So that&#039 ; s the thing for me was like, it&#039 ; s for all of us. And you know, we didn&#039 ; t expect even to be on the top ten and top three and like and then we got invited to New York. I was like, &quot ; What?&quot ; It just...It was just like ; it was just amazing. You know, I have never envisioned that to happen even the first year. And I&#039 ; m like maybe ten years from now, but never the first year and, you know, I was...had a speech for my team and my crew at the time. It was that I&#039 ; m doing this for all of us, not for just me. And I want everyone to grow within us as Khao. If we can&#039 ; t grow together, we&#039 ; re going to grow apart. But that&#039 ; s okay because that&#039 ; s something that you can grow apart because you need to find your own way. I&#039 ; m okay with that. And that&#039 ; s part of the reason why when I have a gathering, I take a team with us. You know, not every team member got to go, but majority of them got to go to New York with us. And it was an experience that, you know, I wish, and I hope they still to this day, you know have are blessed about that experience because I don&#039 ; t think ever, ever have that kind of experience ever again. So it was mainly for my team, for to win number two restaurant in the nation. It wasn&#039 ; t for me. It was for my culture, for my team, for the people that supported me through all this effort and new pop ups. So I never thought it was for myself and then, you know, coming back and lines, like lines and lines. You know, when we first came back opening at...I couldn&#039 ; t grasp how much our vision came to fruition. Like we talked about this. Having this dream, you know, people coming, waiting in line and all this stuff. And it, it&#039 ; s right outside our door. And it wasn&#039 ; t just outside our door, it was around the building. Like, you know, people were waiting three hours out there. It was so amazing, though. Well received. I had to hire so many people just to make sure that we can, you know, keep up with the masses, keep up with the glamor and so on, so forth. You know, labor costs were through a roof. We knew that. But we had to keep on moving forward to showcase the food we created within our home, you know, through our parents and now to the masses. And for us to...And I tell this all the time, like, &quot ; We&#039 ; re number two. Sucks, but we&#039 ; re number one in your heart.&quot ; Remember that. We&#039 ; re number one in your heart and stomach. But to this day, I still can&#039 ; t believe how much people well received from all around the world because we had customers... And this is when I was able to really greet customers, talk to customers. And that&#039 ; s something my mom did at her restaurant. You know, her teaching was always customers and employees comes first. Take care of your customers, take care of your employees, because those are the ones that will continue to support you. And I always do that with my team, i always support my team regardless of who they are. And some might not ever think that I care for them. I always care for every single member of my team regardless of if they work there for one day, two days, three days, whatever. I saw they put effort into believing what we did there. And I met so many customers from out of the country. Iceland, Switzerland, England, Brazil. You know, Spain. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What? How the heck do you guys know?&quot ; They&#039 ; re like, &quot ; You&#039 ; re number two restaurant in the United States...You&#039 ; re in Conde Nast Magazine, which is international. You&#039 ; re understand that, right?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh, wow.&quot ; So it was it was literally, I felt like I was in a dream. Seriously a dream. And then that dream came crashing in 2020. |01:19:59| Brody Oh, well, but before that, you had more even more accolades, right? You personally got recognized by the James Beard? |01:20:06| Sirisavath Yes. I mean, that was part of when I was in Thailand. Because we went to my business partner, Tex&#039 ; s wedding, him and Annie. Annie was our front of the house manager, and we went for the wedding. And it was hard because, you know, we went through that whole year of working your butt off and it&#039 ; s our occasion. And the same thing, you know, we were able to take a couple of our team members with us. I told them, &quot ; Just pay your plane ticket. You know, pretty much you&#039 ; re on paid vacation. You&#039 ; re going to get paid vacation.&quot ; And that&#039 ; s what it was. Like three, four of our team was able to go. And at the time I was there, and we came back, that&#039 ; s when COVID happened, right before COVID happened. So we went there, had a good time, had a vacation, had a break. Came back, you know, getting rested up and then I had to fly out again in three weeks to do a Lao food retreat for Lao Food Movement and you know to bring Lao chefs together all around the world to our organization. Channapha, she was the leader for Legacies of War, so she was coming up with this idea, &quot ; Hey, let&#039 ; s bring Lao chefs together.&quot ; So I was like, &quot ; Okay, cool.&quot ; And literally, the week before I was supposed to depart, I caught the flu. It was pretty bad. I almost had to cancel my whole trip. But instead I postponed my trip like a week later. So then I kind of recuperated. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; This flu is getting bad.&quot ; And here comes the news... COVID, you know, coronavirus. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t think I caught it.&quot ; So I went in and got tested to make sure. This was very new. So then my result came back as Influenza B instead A. So it&#039 ; s more in the swine flu. So it&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Okay, maybe I don&#039 ; t have it.&quot ; Anyway, I go back to Thailand, I&#039 ; m still kind of feeling out of it. I was like, &quot ; Man, they&#039 ; re doing this temperature check.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know if going to get accepted.&quot ; You know, like, I&#039 ; m not hot, but, you know, I just feel like I&#039 ; m still sick. But I have to go to this event and plus I have to meet my dad in Thailand. Went there and that&#039 ; s when I got the news. And everyone&#039 ; s like blowing up my phone, like, &quot ; Did you hear?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like &quot ; What you mean?&quot ; &quot ; Congratulations.&quot ; &quot ; What are we talking about?&quot ; James Beard Semifinalist. Like, &quot ; What? You&#039 ; ve got to be kidding me.&quot ; Like, no way. You know, the time difference. I was, you know, falling asleep, my phone&#039 ; s blowing up. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No way.&quot ; I thought, &quot ; Okay. All right.&quot ; So my plan was when I come back, we&#039 ; re going to hit it hard. We&#039 ; re going to, you know, continue our growth, and make amazing food. Continues telling a story, inspiring other chefs, other home cooks whoever to become someone they know that they can be. Come back and then...Not just came back. So before...Right before I came back, I also found out that I was part of Food &amp ; Wine &quot ; Best Ten New Chefs.&quot ; Like, no, like, come on. |01:23:09| Brody Amazing. Congratulations. |01:23:11| Sirisavath I&#039 ; m like &quot ; What?&quot ; I like, &quot ; No, this is not real. This is not real.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, this is definitely a dream. Definitely a dream.&quot ; You know, one thing is Bon Appétit. James Beard. But Food &amp ; Wine &quot ; Best New Chefs.&quot ; Like, &quot ; No. You guys you guys have this wrong. You guys. No.&quot ; I come back and they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; No. You&#039 ; re a part of the new &quot ; Best New Chefs&quot ; for 2020, class of 2020.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Oh my God. This is where I felt like, you know, winning Bon Appetit, winning James Beard, or not even winning, but nominated for James Beard, that was for my team. That was for the culture, for us, to put us on the map. But to win Food &amp ; Wine was like I felt like, you know what? I had to be selfish. This is for me. I can hear my mom in the back of my head like, &quot ; This is for you. You understand that. You know, you did everything that you could do, but accept this one because this is for you. It&#039 ; s &#039 ; Best New Chef.&#039 ; You are the chef. You are a chef.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Damn. I am a chef now. I&#039 ; m not a home cook or mama&#039 ; s boy cook, learn from...I&#039 ; m like I&#039 ; m a chef. Like, wow.&quot ; Like it&#039 ; s a title that I know that rarely people use. I mean people use &quot ; chef&quot ; quite a bit and for me to learn the meaning of &quot ; chef&quot ; is involvement in the food you make, the experience you create for the diners, the food that you source, the dishes that you create artistically and emotionally, and also to your way of conveying a message. That&#039 ; s what &quot ; chef&quot ; is about. It&#039 ; s doing everything. It&#039 ; s not just cooking one dish. It&#039 ; s breaking down the protein, picking leaves, cleaning bathrooms, cleaning dishes. That&#039 ; s what a chef is, and I literally saw that in my mom, but no one ever gave her that recognition as a chef because she did everything and she immersed herself into the business to the point where it drove her crazy, almost to a point where she stressed herself out. And now I&#039 ; m going through those motions. But you know. It builds character, right? Food builds character. Business builds character. Involvement in your own culture builds character because you know more about yourself than you thought you knew. And that&#039 ; s what food does to people. |01:25:49| Brody You mentioned the storytelling aspect of what you&#039 ; re trying to do with your menu and your cooking. I wondered if you could talk about, as you decide what goes on the menu, how much are you thinking about educating or storytelling and how much about specifically food? |01:26:15| Sirisavath So for me, like Khao Noodle I said, to this day, Khao Noodle Shop will be a passion project. I understand passion projects sometimes don&#039 ; t make you money. I understand that now. But passion is also through grit and grind. You have to be able to put in your work and time into making something beautiful. And even a passion project, you can&#039 ; t just say &quot ; I have passion, I have drive. I can make a dish.&quot ; No. It gets you there. But it doesn&#039 ; t it get you a hundred percent there? The other part of it is that storytelling. When you have passion, you have stories. Dishes that you create is the journey and the story through your life. I think that&#039 ; s part of why Khao is so special, because every dish that I make at Khao is a story behind it. Like the boat noodles. Boat noodles was a dish that when I first went to Thailand as a young child, eating that dish, was so amazing and so fun because I was eating off a boat and this old lady pouring it out and giving it to me. And same thing. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Mom, what&#039 ; s this dish that&#039 ; s so good?&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, so rich and hearty and flavorful and it&#039 ; s like, &quot ; It&#039 ; s the pork blood they put in.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What the heck? Pork blood.&quot ; As a young child, like, &quot ; No.&quot ; But then I asked her, like, &quot ; Can you make this dish at home?&quot ; Like, &quot ; Well, yeah, I&#039 ; ll make it for you.&quot ; So as a child, to remember that essence of me going to Southeast Asia, that for the very first time as a child, that was my first dish that I remember eating. And then everything else follows through, like making like Khao Poon, Khao Poon noodles. That was that dish I made for my mom that she said she didn&#039 ; t teach me how to make, but she did. I mean, she didn&#039 ; t physically taught me how to make that dish. But, you know, it was more of a... what&#039 ; s that word I&#039 ; m looking for...osmosis kind of way of teaching. So I kind of absorbed that from her, from her movement of and her smell and just kind of... she was a artist like. And so she&#039 ; s like a conductor of, you know, these dishes, of these ingredients when she&#039 ; s putting food in, an ingredient into the soup or whatever and grabbing a little pinch of salt here, eyeballing everything. It&#039 ; s like she&#039 ; s the conductor of her dish and everything comes out and it&#039 ; s just a beautiful dish like, you know, composing a beautiful music and a symphony. So that&#039 ; s why her symphony is the dish she makes. And I think that&#039 ; s where I saw her. That&#039 ; s why to this day, I always give her inspiration. I mean, she is my inspiration in everything, but yeah. So that&#039 ; s part of that storytelling of what my dishes are. You know, my upbringing, my roots. Like tripe chicharrones. People are like, &quot ; Chicharrones. That&#039 ; s a Mexican dish.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Yeah. And tripe, too. But we use tripe in different ways and whatnot.&quot ; That was my upbringing in San Antonio, being around a lot of Hispanic Mexican culture. The food I&#039 ; ve eaten in San Antonio remind me of that. So I was like, how can I pay tribute to that upbringing and my childhood? This is the dish. This is the storytelling of this dish, is through the loss of identity for a little bit. But became a loss I needed to find my true identity, living here in Dallas. And that&#039 ; s my storytelling through the food I make. Another dish is Moutsayhang. Moutsayhang is a dish that I just randomly came up with. Oh, musubi. You know, like everyone understands musubi. Spam, rice, makes sense. So, I was like how can I make that something that&#039 ; s more relatable to Lao culture and to myself? Like, growing up Asian-American, like we know musubi, Spam, rice. That&#039 ; s how we grew up. You know, Spam was a cheap meat product for immigrants. You know, it&#039 ; s like the so cheap for everything. And it&#039 ; s flavorful. It&#039 ; s like, okay, I grew up eating that. How could I make that my own? And that&#039 ; s part of what Moutsayhang came up. But then the word &quot ; mutayang&quot ; means &quot ; everything.&quot ; So I changed the word. The word for our Moutsayhang before was like &quot ; Lao musubi.&quot ; One of my childhood friends. Chris, he came in. He brought his mom in, actually. They were actually neighbors of mine in Amarillo, Texas. So he walks in. I saw him. I saw his mom. I like, had kind of like took a second glance because I hadn&#039 ; t seen her in a very long time as well, probably over 15 years. And I saw her, but then also her stature, she looks like my mom, like almost like, &quot ; Wait.&quot ; And she was wearing, you know, they&#039 ; d dress alike too, and were good friends. So she comes in and I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh my God. Man, like, I haven&#039 ; t seen you forever.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Yeah, how you doing?&quot ; &quot ; I heard you doing good. I&#039 ; m glad Chris has brought me to your restaurant.&quot ; And then I was just sitting there, you know, she&#039 ; s ordering stuff and she orders the Lao Musubi. She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What is this?&quot ; I was like &quot ; It&#039 ; s, I guess, like, you know, khao.&quot ; And like, you know, and then I put like an eggplant dipping sauce. Because usually like I said, Lao food, it&#039 ; s finger food. So you dip your sticky rice into your dipping sauce and then you have your protein and you kind of put your protein on top and eat it like that. Instead, I was like, I made a whole musubi a vessel. So you just put it in your hand and eat it. She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Oh, like |01:31:58|&#039 ; mutayang&#039 ; meaning &quot ; everything.&quot ; So I kind of twist a word on musubi. And so I call it &quot ; moutsayhang&quot ; and he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Oh.&quot ; I was like, it clicked in my head like, &quot ; moutsayhang.&quot ; It&#039 ; s everything in one bite. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh my God. So I changed the name to &quot ; moutsayhang&quot ; after what she told me. It is everything in one bite. I think that was like my mom as well too like being there and having that moment. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Okay, I feel like she&#039 ; s still around me, helping me, guiding me through this whole restaurant ownership and food culture.&quot ; |01:32:35| Brody And the and the huge success as well. You talked about- before we get to the effects of the pandemic- You talked about initially that, you know, the really great feedback that you got from the restaurant reviewers and critics and so on. And then also you mentioned some negative feedback about it being too progressive or not traditional enough. Where do you come down on that issue? |01:33:02| Sirisavath I mean, for me personally, first, I mean, I took it to heart and to this day, there&#039 ; s some things I take to heart. Because the thing is...I take it to heart because it is a lot of it, it&#039 ; s my mom&#039 ; s recipe, right? A lot of it is my grandparents&#039 ; , grandma&#039 ; s recipes. Well, my aunt&#039 ; s recipe. It&#039 ; s been passed down the lineage. For me it&#039 ; s like, this is our identity. This is who we are. And then not just that, our identity is who we are to this day. We are Asian-American. You know, we grew up Asian-American throughout our life and to this day. So why can&#039 ; t we adapt to our environment like our parents did and have something that we can say is our own? And so I think what it is, is we are also locked into our own heads, saying that &quot ; Identity is what I eat at home. This true Lao food. What I eat at home is true Lao food.&quot ; It&#039 ; s not because it&#039 ; s an adaptation of what Lao food is because it&#039 ; s a product of your parents and environment to them, adapting to the ingredients around them. That&#039 ; s what true... And you know, we have identity crisis. But the thing is, that&#039 ; s the authenticity is within the person making that dish. If they feel like this is authentic to them, authentic to their palate, it should be authentic to you. Regardless if your palate is different from them. Every person here has a different palate. Salty, sweet, sour, savory, you know, funky, whoever. But I think the essence of what traditional cuisine is, as long as it touches your soul. If it brings you to a moment in your life, especially your childhood, then that dish is authentic. I had a lot, I have to this day, still a lot of customers that eat the food at Darkoo&#039 ; s now Chicken Shack. Not. Not formerly Khao. I don&#039 ; t take the essence away of what Lao food is. I change it a little bit differently. Like I said, it&#039 ; s evolved. It&#039 ; s the evolution of who I am of Asian-American, Lao- American, Texan to where I can put my heart and soul into a dish and have it represent who I am. Not the person next to me, because the person next to me can be different from who I am. So this is my own individuality. So a gentleman comes in, he orders the Lao Gai, Lao cucumbers, sticky rice. And I heard from one of our servers like, &quot ; This reminds me so much of my mom&#039 ; s cooking. I haven&#039 ; t had my mom&#039 ; s cooking in a while, and I miss that. I don&#039 ; t know what it is. It&#039 ; s not traditional. It&#039 ; s not what my mom makes but makes me feel at home&quot ; . And that&#039 ; s the true authenticity of a cuisine, not just a cuisine, but any kind of art form that we do. You know, you have to be authentic to yourself, authentic to your culture to represent your identity. A lot of people try to fake it to make it. And that&#039 ; s where &quot ; lost in translation&quot ; is because a lot of people try to mimic this or mimic that. I&#039 ; m not trying to mimic anything. I&#039 ; m just trying to utilize the recipe that was given to me and put myself into that recipe. So where people of my culture, my generation can understand that, you know what, we can evolve, we can progress in a good way, a good manner to where we don&#039 ; t lose our own identity, because I think that&#039 ; s part of it, too. Identity crisis where like for myself, I lost my own identity for a moment in time. But what brought me back was food. Genuinely, it was food. To this day, nothing else, probably. But the one thing that brought me back was food and my mom. And the love that she created in those dishes. That was it. That was. That&#039 ; s. That&#039 ; s the secret. There&#039 ; s no other Asian secret. That&#039 ; s the secret. |01:37:24| Brody As far as you mentioned, you know, your mom was cooking Chinese American food. And, you know, even though she wasn&#039 ; t Thai herself, she had a Thai restaurant. And you mentioned when we were talking about that, you know, that she kind of thought as long as you learn how to do it and you have respect for it...How do you feel about, in terms of other chefs learning about Lao food and Lao flavors and the profile and incorporating it into their own, you know, putting their own spin on that, what are your feelings around that? |01:38:01| Sirisavath You know. At first, I like I had hate for it. I mean, the thing is, you&#039 ; re stealing our identity, first of all. For me, that&#039 ; s the just straight, honest truth because, you know, no one knows our food better than ourselves. Seriously, I mean, we grew up on this stuff, so you try and tell me that you can make Lao food better than me or as good as me? If you can, it&#039 ; s probably because you learned from someone that grew up in Laos or in a Lao family. Or you went to in the country, evolve yourself into ingredients and see the struggles that the immigrants went through. I think that&#039 ; s mainly for me, that&#039 ; s the reason when I do hear other, you know, non-Lao chefs or non-Asian chefs making Laotian cuisine or Asian cuisine, it&#039 ; s always kind of like, &quot ; Where did you learn that from? Do you pay homage and pay tribute to that culture and not just being a culture vulture and making money off of that?&quot ; And it&#039 ; s a battle that we have to this day, right? Self-gratifying is always something that I&#039 ; ll give myself and the people that actually are making good, honest food. You know, I congratulate them on that. But for those that are, you know, literally stealing our identity, it shouldn&#039 ; t be that way unless you really immerse yourself in the culture. And not just immerse yourself in the culture, but also represent the culture, being involved in that community as well, too, because anyone can make Pad Thai, right? Anyone can make laab, but it lacks soul, it lacks experience, and lacks culture, it lacks the upbringing of that dish, you know, because we grew up eating that dish, everyone that makes, you know Tikka masala, you know, like to this day, like, you know, that&#039 ; s not your dish. You didn&#039 ; t eat that as a child. You know, we&#039 ; ve eaten these dishes as a child, so we should know what it tastes like or what goes into it. It&#039 ; s not just the ingredients that goes into it, it&#039 ; s the care that goes into it, it&#039 ; s the struggles that go into it, it&#039 ; s the uprooting of a family that goes into it. You know, that&#039 ; s the essence of our dish. That&#039 ; s reason why I kind of get upset on that aspect, because it&#039 ; s not something that you just can take from us. We can share it, you know, and then give us representation on it. As like, &quot ; Hey, this was inspired from Chef Donny from Khao Noodle Shop. You know, I&#039 ; ve spent time with him. I&#039 ; ve learned what he learned as much as I could. So I&#039 ; m paying tribute to this dish because of him.&quot ; You know, that&#039 ; s fair. But when a Chipotle will open up, you know, Asian Khao wherever and they don&#039 ; t pay homage or tribute and it&#039 ; s making money off our culture. It&#039 ; s not right, you know. |01:40:56| Brody Do you see...Well, first, tell me what happened with the pandemic and what were the effects for you? |01:41:03| Sirisavath Oh, yeah. Here we go. This is the sad side, right? And this is the side that everyone wants to know. I mean Khao was so special, so unique, so filled with life. You know, that was taken away from the pandemic. Hearing me being &quot ; Best New Chef&quot ; with Food &amp ; Wine, that was a &quot ; pat on the back&quot ; kind of moment, but also a moment where I have to figure out things and pivot to survive because, you know, usually Food &amp ; Wine has their Aspen Food &amp ; Wine big, elaborate showcase. Biggest platform here in the United States for chefs. We weren&#039 ; t able to partake in that, you know, and that&#039 ; s where our level of cooking will be showcased bigger than what we where we are here. So we didn&#039 ; t we didn&#039 ; t have that. So then and of course, you know, Khao Noodle Shop was more a dining experience, education of what the dishes. You know, my servers are educating each and every customer that comes in that door involving, talking, an introduction to what this ingredient is, what&#039 ; s that, how I do this, how I do that, the story behind the dish. You can&#039 ; t do that on takeout. So it was hard. We pivoted to doing take out for Khao Noodle Shop. It&#039 ; s just that noodles...everybody knows noodles does not travel well, doesn&#039 ; t warm up as well as you cook at home. You know, we are not using instant noodles, so it was like it&#039 ; s not that way. Yeah. I mean we&#039 ; ve, we tried everything, and I even was delivering food to my customers. Like it had gotten to a point where, you know, we had to make sure that we&#039 ; re surviving. One of my customers, it was funny... just ordered to go. I didn&#039 ; t know the, I didn&#039 ; t recognize the name and whatnot. And sometimes I don&#039 ; t remember my customers&#039 ; name. I mean, I&#039 ; m very bad with name. So I go ring the doorbell, drop off the food. They&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Just leave it at the door.&quot ; &quot ; Okay.&quot ; And it was a Ring camera and they&#039 ; re like, I just hear his wife, &quot ; Chef?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Yeah.&quot ; Like &quot ; You&#039 ; re delivering the food?&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Yeah, yeah. I mean it&#039 ; s tough. You know, we got to make sure we thrive and survive.&quot ; And then I mean, it wasn&#039 ; t getting anywhere. And then we decided to &quot ; Hey, we&#039 ; re going to close our dining room because, you know, we can&#039 ; t open our dining room.&quot ; So we were just doing take out. And it was like a moment where like, &quot ; Hey, we got a little life back&quot ; because everyone &quot ; Oh, no, no, no, we got to get Khao because then we won&#039 ; t get Khao anymore.&quot ; We had tickets for days. It was a good moment. And then it&#039 ; s short lived. And then with the transition to Khao Gang, which was a concept that we were creating. With gang... We called it a &quot ; Khao Gang&quot ; because we&#039 ; re Khao. And then we&#039 ; re the gang of Khao, but gang means stews, soups. And so that makes sense that our next business venture was more of inducing different dishes than just noodles. So Khao Gang was more comfort food. Where you&#039 ; re eating stews and soups with rice, porridge, so on and so forth. Because, you know, in the pandemic, everyone wanted something that&#039 ; s feeling home. Feeling home, something comforting, right? So that&#039 ; s our comfort food that we created and that was short lived. And then now, you know, we&#039 ; re able to kind of somewhat trickle Khao Noodle Shop back with patio dining so we did that, but still same you know it wasn&#039 ; t received the same as the whole Khao experience. So then we just, you know, we decided to do a kind of &quot ; Noodles for All&quot ; kind of thing to at the time because it was just initially friends were getting laid off and, you know, a lot of restaurants were closing. Bars were not able to open up at the time. So we did this fundraising where you can buy a meal for industry, friends or family. So just to kind of help the community out as well. And, and we created a T-shirt for the community as well- Dallas Proper. So Dallas Proper was a, based on Dallas Proper restaurants and bars where we can give back to the community so we can, you know, help out each and every one of us. We did that for a minute, just kind of, you know, bring that love and care back into the food industry in Dallas. It was a struggle. It was hard. I mean, our restaurant&#039 ; s only three tables, right? And then communal tables. And so that&#039 ; s what really hindered us on- as far as that whole dining experience. You can&#039 ; t have a community table with COVID. So we decided to just not do a dining room, only patio. And we just, I mean, we couldn&#039 ; t stop the bleeding. Bleeding was pretty bad. You know, it was kind of like putting a Band-Aid over a knife wound, right? It&#039 ; s not going to stop the bleeding. So we decided just to go ahead and end Khao Noodle Shop. And I mean, me and Tex and my wife kind of went our separate ways. But, you know, we&#039 ; re still thinking about bringing Khao back. But then one of my good friends, Jimmy Niwa, reached out to me like, &quot ; I know you&#039 ; re struggling, man.&quot ; He&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What can I help?&quot ; I was like, &quot ; Oh. I need to come up with a concept where it&#039 ; s going to be something easy, fast, casual.&quot ; And he was like, &quot ; What do you want to do?&quot ; I was like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know, man. Like, everyone does chicken.&quot ; Like, &quot ; What kind of chicken you talking about here?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s do Asian fried chicken.&quot ; So Asian fried chicken happened, Darkoo&#039 ; s happened, we closed Khao. We closed Khao Noodle Shop on the third-year anniversary, which was December 12th. It was our last service, kind of quietly did it. And then we announced that. And then January, we announced it at the beginning year that were Khao Noodle Shop would no longer open and transition to a new concept which was Darkoo&#039 ; s. |01:47:19| Brody Tell me about Darkoo&#039 ; s. |01:47:20| Sirisavath So Darkoo&#039 ; s...Darkoo is, in a way, it really is a fun project first and foremost, but it doesn&#039 ; t sacrifice on the essence of what good food is. And it&#039 ; s not going to mimic Khao Noodle Shop. Everyone....That&#039 ; s part of some of the reviews right now. Just like, &quot ; Oh, it&#039 ; s not Khao Noodle Shop.&quot ; Like, &quot ; You don&#039 ; t understand. Here we go again.&quot ; Khao Noodle Shop was very special. It&#039 ; s very unique and very honest and true to what it is about. It&#039 ; s the storytelling. It&#039 ; s the love, the inspiration from a passing mother that passed on her cooking abilities to her son. Darkoo&#039 ; s is just a sort of fun project that I created to showcase my Asian-American roots. This is the most Asian-American thing you can do-fried chicken, especially in Texas and in southern states. Right? Fried chicken is king. So I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? Let&#039 ; s do Asian fried chicken. But Lao style and Japanese style and Cambodian style, Vietnamese style.&quot ; Just overall Asian fried chicken to commemorate the love for our Asian community to represent our next chapter in us being Asian-American. This is what we can look like. We can look like the guy next to us, the person down the street from you. We are everybody. Darkoo&#039 ; s is everybody that&#039 ; s Asian-American. And the thing with Darkoo, the name came about because going back and forth, you know, we up came with &quot ; Chick N Gai.&quot ; The &quot ; gai&quot ; means chicken in Lao and Thai. So like &quot ; chick n Gai.&quot ; So it makes sense a Chick N Gai...okay kind of. But then we find out Guy Fieri as a &quot ; Chicken Guy!&quot ; Because &quot ; Guy&quot ; Fieri. So then we went back and forth, and Jimmy said, &quot ; How about Darkoo&#039 ; s?&quot ; Like, &quot ; Oh yeah.&quot ; Because that&#039 ; s one of my nicknames from Donnie Darko, the movie. But then I add extra, &quot ; o&quot ; so &quot ; darkoo.&quot ; And everyone knew me as Darkoo. And then we&#039 ; re just &quot ; Yeah, let&#039 ; s go with it.&quot ; And then my wife is like, &quot ; Remember? That was one of your pop-up names?&quot ; Like, &quot ; Oh, yeah, I forgot.&quot ; So I did a chicken pop up. I forgot about this fried chicken pop up. It was &quot ; Darkoo&#039 ; s Chicken.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like &quot ; Oh my God.&quot ; It was full circle. Full circle. Not even I&#039 ; m like, I did not remember this until my wife told me and it just came about. And then Darkoo&#039 ; s Fried Chicken Shack came out and just introducing people to Asian, another version of Asian fried chicken and creating dishes, still paying homage to our culture, of course, using the ingredients that that our ancestors have used before us and just represent us in American fashion. |01:50:19| Brody That&#039 ; s great. Do you feel like that&#039 ; s a uniquely Asian-American niche? |01:50:28| Sirisavath Yeah. You know, it&#039 ; s the essence of the identity crisis, right? And then also coming through a pandemic. It&#039 ; s something like, you know, my mom taught me about perseverance and grit and drive and just continuing to do what I need to do. I think, you know, with...there&#039 ; s some darkness in the transition from Khao to Darkoo&#039 ; s. Part of the name &quot ; Darkoo&#039 ; s&quot ; too because it came from a dark place. We all know the pandemic had a hard hit on the food industry. Mainly the food industry, hospitality industry. So this was something like, you know what, we need to create something that will bring us out from the dark as well. So then we can continue to voyage and introducing people to Lao cuisine, Asian cuisine, the immigrant refugee foods that&#039 ; s seen in a lot of restaurants that are created by other nationalities besides their own nationalities. So let&#039 ; s not stop with just Lao food. You know, that&#039 ; s part of reason why I wanted to do this spinoff with Darkoo&#039 ; s, food, where we can have a translation of what Japanese chicken can be, Thai chicken can be, so and so forth. And then and so then it doesn&#039 ; t have to be your basic American style with fusion of Asian spices, kind of, you know, like. So I think that&#039 ; s where the evolvement and evolution of what my chef life is about is where you can do something that&#039 ; s passion driven and have purpose. But also sometimes you have to do these other concepts in order to survive. And I think Darkoo&#039 ; s is what is going to help us survive to get through this big hump in our road, which is the pandemic. And, you know, we&#039 ; re still going through it--now we get the Monkeypox. So maybe there will be a ____ restaurant that comes after monkey pox. Who knows? But I think the whole message and the whole story here is that we learn from our ancestors. Our ancestors came from struggles, came from nothing, came from poverty. Some maybe not came from poverty. Apparently, my mom was kind of privileged, apparently, but then she lost everything. And, you know, leaving a Communist country to uproot her family to live in a land that she has no knowledge of, not knowing the language, not knowing anything. And for her to open her own restaurant, that tells you a lot. And that tells me that I can do as well, if not better than what my mom could have done. So that&#039 ; s reason why my legacy is not...It&#039 ; s on pause as far as, like bringing back Khao and the artisan of what my cuisine is. Same time, Darkoo&#039 ; s is...It&#039 ; s just love and fun? It&#039 ; s just...We need that in this day and age where complexity gets ahold of us and overthinking things, getting stressed out. This is a place where you don&#039 ; t have to think. It&#039 ; s fried chicken. Everyone can enjoy fried chicken, right? Regardless. And if you&#039 ; re vegetarian, we have vegan chicken as well, too. So we don&#039 ; t discriminate here. But, you know, it&#039 ; s just, it&#039 ; s fun. You know, the guy the Lao guy is...He&#039 ; s a fun guy. Yeah. And we just have fun with being silly because I think that&#039 ; s what we need in life for now is having a little moment to be silly, have fun not being so serious and stressed out. And I think that&#039 ; s where I came from my darkness of Khao, stressing through where I have to struggle to survive to make sure my staff members can have a paycheck. And then, you know, a lot of them have gone through to other jobs. I&#039 ; m on a brand-new whole team on Darkoo&#039 ; s. But wherever I teach at Darkoo&#039 ; s, and the next spot is always going to be what I teach at every restaurant. It&#039 ; s about individuality, about art, your art, your artistic self, and also at the end of the day, about yourself, who you are, stay genuine who you are. Your blood is always going to be from a blood from your ancestor no matter what. You know, it&#039 ; s going we bleed the same, you know. And not just our ancestors, but every human being bleeds the same regardless of who we are. You know, I think that&#039 ; s a true identity of us as the human race, is that we are human guys, regardless of we make this dish or that dish, we always have something awesome, always to fall back on is food. We have to eat to survive. We have to eat to have a conversational moments. We have to eat to get the nutrition we need in life to survive. And also, we have to feed people that are hungry, you know, and can&#039 ; t feed for themselves. And that&#039 ; s part of what food is about, too, as well. You know, we try to make sure that anyone that comes up for us to a homeless person to, you know, we also want to feed everybody regardless of who, where they&#039 ; re from. And there&#039 ; s no there&#039 ; s no discrimination on who comes up as well too. You know, I try not to be that guy. Like, just, you know, there is sometimes you have to, you know, we have to run a business. But if someone comes up and needs food, we always...I tell my staff, just make sure we give them something, feed them. You know, they&#039 ; re just as hungry as the next person, even though that they can&#039 ; t pay for food, got to make sure to get food. And I think that&#039 ; s also part of like people telling me like, &quot ; Your food&#039 ; s too expensive.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh. Here we go.&quot ; There&#039 ; s always the negative. But I always think there&#039 ; s always negative, but there&#039 ; s more positive out of it from all the negative comments and spills and reviews, you know. Now, my team&#039 ; s like &quot ; Chef, you you&#039 ; re not reading reviews. No more.&quot ; |01:56:56| Brody Yeah, that&#039 ; s a that&#039 ; s a good segue. You know, what do you as a restaurant owner and a chef think about the advent of social media reviews, things like Yelp and things like that? And how do you contrast them with the professional reviewers? |01:57:18| Sirisavath I think a lot of times, you know, on the reviews, it&#039 ; s, you know, everyone&#039 ; s subject for their own opinion, right? Everyone has their own opinion. But most of those opinions that are...There&#039 ; s a lot of trolls out there, as we know. There are people that try to get you to pull the trigger because there are you know, there are some times where I read comments like, &quot ; You know what, let me pull back.&quot ; I need to pull back because, you know, because I am a passionate person. I&#039 ; m very passionate about what I do. And my art that I do is...It&#039 ; s my art. You know, for someone to criticize my art, I... that&#039 ; s how I make my living. And I think that&#039 ; s the hardest part of when people give me a negative review. It&#039 ; s like negative reviews doesn&#039 ; t really hurt me. It hurts my business and my employees. You know, that&#039 ; s the way I look at it now. Because if those negative comments become more negative comments, how am I going to survive with my business? How am I going to pay my employees? How am I going to pay for my product and pay my vendors? And I think that&#039 ; s where it&#039 ; s at. It&#039 ; s not about me. You know, you can hurt me all you want now, you know, words... Words doesn&#039 ; t mean nothing to me now. I try not to take it to heart. I try not to. And that&#039 ; s part of reason why like my team is like, &quot ; No, Chef. You&#039 ; re not reading.&quot ; And then there are some times where I read it, I sit there now, I take a deep breath and you know. And going back to a lot of my mentors and they say, &quot ; You know, just don&#039 ; t bother with them. You know, they don&#039 ; t know what you go through each and every single day. You know what you have to do to survive and make money and continue to thrive.&quot ; And that&#039 ; s what it has to be like. I need to take care of myself. I don&#039 ; t need to worry about this one person, one reviewer, because the next ten is going to be positive. Next twenty. Next thirty. But that one person is not going to affect me. |01:59:18| Brody Is that mostly in the realm of the social media type reviews or.... |01:59:23| Sirisavath Yeah, mostly. And I understand you have some...And you know, we&#039 ; re going down this road. Right? And so there&#039 ; s always going to be negative social reviewers because a lot of them won&#039 ; t tell you in your face because they know they can type on a keyboard, and you don&#039 ; t have to ever see them ever again. I think those are people they need to experience work in a restaurant for themselves first. First and foremost to how to run a business, and especially a restaurant. Restaurant runs on a thin, thin margin of profit. We don&#039 ; t make profit. We&#039 ; re not making money for ourselves. We&#039 ; re not trying to get rich off of making restaurant. We&#039 ; re trying to showcase our heritage, our culture, our stories. We&#039 ; re not trying to...I would love to make money. Don&#039 ; t get me wrong, everyone loves to make money. But at the same time, like for me, right now, I&#039 ; m just I&#039 ; m just trying to make sure I have...I can make payroll next month. I can make sure I can pay my bills the next month, keep the lights on next month. So negative reviews hurt business far as the upfront and personal reviews, I&#039 ; ve gotten those. Overhearing some comments. One of the last comments from my server and I was outside actually as well too talking to her friend. The worst critics are your own critics, your own, your own kind. And that&#039 ; s where it&#039 ; s the hardest because this is where we go back on authenticity. Right? My own kind will come in and thrash me and tear me apart. Saying, &quot ; This is not Lao food. This is whitewashed American food. American style. You&#039 ; re catering to white palates.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? I&#039 ; m not.&quot ; If you taste the food, that food is tasteful. It may be plated differently. It may be not your mom&#039 ; s cooking. It&#039 ; s not. You can&#039 ; t say it&#039 ; s not Lao food or Asian food or whatever. Just because you&#039 ; re so narrow-minded and locked into your own mind, saying that &quot ; This is only what Lao food should be.&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; No. Lao food can be bigger than what it is.&quot ; That&#039 ; s what I tell my own kind. It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; We need to stop bickering and pushing ourselves in this whole circle. We need to branch out of the circle and be better and bigger than what we are now.&quot ; That&#039 ; s how a lot of cultures progress forward, not backward. And that&#039 ; s where it started with- with food. Same thing with movements. You know, every movement starts with food. And if we can&#039 ; t appreciate our own food from a fellow chef or fellow Lao, Indian, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese person, we are oppressing ourselves. You know, that&#039 ; s where it happens. It happens within ourselves. So stop doing that. And his comment was, &quot ; No, I&#039 ; m not paying no more for this food. Let&#039 ; s leave.&quot ; And his wife was like, &quot ; No. I want to order more. The food&#039 ; s good.&quot ; And the kids like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m hungry, Daddy.&quot ; And later on, you know, I heard. Kind of, you know, my server overheard him, and she came and told me because they kind of felt like there was something going on and then they left. Probably two hours later, my phone goes off. Google Review. One star. From my own kind. One of my last customers of Khao Noodle Shop. So that&#039 ; s a lasting impression. You know, like a customer, they came about. And then readers read that as like, &quot ; You know what? He&#039 ; s a Lao person, giving a Lao restaurant a one-star review, so we can&#039 ; t trust that restaurant.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s where it hurts us the most from our own kind. It does. I&#039 ; m like, I tell you, that&#039 ; s the whole gist of it. Any restaurant that we go to we always ask, &quot ; Who&#039 ; s eating at that restaurant? Is there Indian person eating at that Indian restaurant? Or is there a Chinese person eating at that Chinese restaurant?&quot ; Because you want to know if it&#039 ; s good enough for their own kind. If it&#039 ; s good enough for their own kind, then guess what? It&#039 ; s good enough for us? So that&#039 ; s the same thing goes for reviews. If our own kinds are giving us negative reviews. How&#039 ; s that&#039 ; s going to look for other ethnic that wants to eat our food? They&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Well, if his own kind is not appreciating his food, then that&#039 ; s not something that we need to eat.&quot ; Y. |02:03:50| Brody Yeah, that has a big impact for sure. You mentioned in one of the articles that I read that, you know, that you saw that some of your, that your dishes were like elevating Lao food. Right? Like, is that...What does that mean to you? Like in light of all of these, tricky, you know, tricky things, hard to please everybody. |02:04:12| Sirisavath I mean yes and no. I have you know...It&#039 ; s that meme of like, it&#039 ; s in between. I get it. I don&#039 ; t like it. I like it. It&#039 ; s not quite elevated. Right? For me, it&#039 ; s more of like I go back to it. You know, it&#039 ; s my own artisan. It&#039 ; s my own individuality in a piece that I created for the masses. I create this dish because I felt like it needs a voice for ourself. Because every home cook cooks the same dish. Everything that mimics home cooked meals is made in every other home. I&#039 ; m not going to take a mom&#039 ; s cooking and take that recipe from her. That&#039 ; s the reason, other reason why I didn&#039 ; t take my mom&#039 ; s recipes. All my recipes from my mom was all through memory. All my family member was like, &quot ; Why do you not take Mom&#039 ; s recipe book? Why? Her recipes are to die for. You know, if you make Mom&#039 ; s recipe, you know, the food&#039 ; s gonna be amazing.&quot ; Guess what? That&#039 ; s Mom&#039 ; s recipe. She created those recipe on her own from the inspiration she had from her grandmother and her mom. Let her die with that. I told my family about this and same thing for me. That&#039 ; s the reason why for me making Lao food, this is my own recipe that was inspired from my mom&#039 ; s, my grandma, my aunts, uncles, my whole family. It&#039 ; s where I create my own identity and create my own recipe. This is what my dish is. It&#039 ; s not elevated, it&#039 ; s my own interpretation of what Lao food can be or become or to become. It&#039 ; s an evolution of our environment. You know, what we adapt to is the dish that we create a Khao or at Darkoo&#039 ; s or wherever restaurant I do. Because anything that I create, as long as I pay homage to my culture, pay tribute to my ancestors, is that&#039 ; s all I need. That&#039 ; s the dish I create. It&#039 ; s not because I elevated Lao cuisine. I didn&#039 ; t elevate it. I just created my own in my own culinary space of my own culture. Like everyone in our culture...have their own identity. So, you know, one person can sing better than the next person. One person can do art better than next person. So on and so forth. It&#039 ; s not a battle. It&#039 ; s not a competition. I&#039 ; m not trying to compete with my own kind. And I always my own kind also compete for themselves. And for me it&#039 ; s more about supporting each other. Grabbing a hold of our community and supporting each other regardless of who we are and what we&#039 ; re making. And I&#039 ; ve, back in the past, I was that person to where, like, &quot ; Well, I can do that better. I can do this better.&quot ; I was that person. But I was very naive and young. But then once I created my own dishes, created my own restaurant, and now I understand the heart and soul, the grit, the grind, the work that you have to make a successful business. I understand now it&#039 ; s like I commend anyone that makes a home cooked meal to the masses. It&#039 ; s hard too. And that&#039 ; s why I&#039 ; m telling people, &quot ; You think my dishes are expensive? Then you should be paying your mom because your mom spent that much time making that dish for you. Hours upon hours. Days upon days. Sometimes if she&#039 ; s carrying, fermenting, why are you not paying your mom? Why are you not paying homage to your mom or tribute to your mom? And you&#039 ; re here complaining that you&#039 ; re paying $12 for my dish? Really?&quot ; And also, why can&#039 ; t you make yourself and you say you can make it better myself. Open a restaurant. Then talk to me.&quot ; And then you&#039 ; re like, &quot ; You know what? I&#039 ; m sorry, man. I feel you.&quot ; Because I&#039 ; m going back to restaurant. Restaurants are marginal. I&#039 ; m making profit. We are slim to none to make profit. You know, our food costs have inflated so much to past years from the pandemic. We&#039 ; re making dollars -three, four or five dollars from a dish versus we can make from. And that&#039 ; s why like I am not against fine dining, but when a fine dining experience make elevated Asian food and paying you know, $60, $30, $100. And they&#039 ; re just using cheap product or product that&#039 ; s expensive to get I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I get it. I get it.&quot ; But the thing is, there&#039 ; s also that soulness that you&#039 ; re losing from that dish. So that&#039 ; s for me when I create fine dining dishes, when people call it that. I never sacrifice the soul that goes in a dish. It may be plated pretty, using high quality ingredients, but it never lacks soul. That&#039 ; s my cooking, my way of fine dining. It needs to have soul. Needs to have purpose and soul to where you eat that and it brings a warmth inside your heart and stomach to like, &quot ; I feel great. You know, after that meal. I don&#039 ; t feel hungry. I mean, I don&#039 ; t feel hungry.&quot ; Because there&#039 ; s small bites, but...And a lot of people say that to me, about Khao Noodle Shop. It was like small portions, small bites. It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What are you feeding, kids?&quot ; No one. That&#039 ; s all my comments. Like, &quot ; Are these kids&#039 ; size?&quot ; Like, we grow in America. We&#039 ; re adapted to American way of eating, which is overeating. And that&#039 ; s what my teaching as well too where you go to Southeast Asia, you see the plates are tiny. And at home, we eat tiny dishes. You know, we don&#039 ; t eat one big dish. We eat like multiple small dishes, and then we have rice. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Guys, it&#039 ; s nothing different from what we eat at home or in from our motherland.&quot ; It&#039 ; s because we&#039 ; re so used to the American way of eating, which is overindulging on food. And that&#039 ; s part of why my food is so different than most Asian food, because there&#039 ; s a lot of Thai restaurants, Chinese restaurants now. It&#039 ; s serving big portions because they had to adapt to American way, which is bang for your buck, you know, and my mom had to do that, and I knew that. For me was taking it back. You know, this is a full circle, taking it back to where we what we eat at home from Lao or Thailand. Small portions, eat enough to satisfy your hunger, but also eat to enjoy what you&#039 ; re eating. |02:11:02| Brody That sounds great. What a lot of the people that I&#039 ; m talking to are, you know, &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; you know, owners of restaurants that are characterized as &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurants. Do you see, you know, either Khao Noodle or Darkoo as &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; or how do you what category? Where do you where do you fit in? |02:11:25| Sirisavath I mean, a lot of people...This is this is the misconception on Khao. Because, you know, Khao is so glamorous, I guess people say now and so well-received and, you know, of a restaurant, a home, homemade cook can never receive. But for me personally, we are a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; shop because we don&#039 ; t have any investors. All the money we put in is ourselves. That&#039 ; s what people are going, &quot ; I mean, you guys probably have money in the bank and investors.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No.&quot ; There&#039 ; s no investors. The person that put money into Khao Noodle Shop was me, my wife, and Tex. Our three partners. We put all our money into this restaurant. We have no outside influence. No outside silent investors, so on and so forth. We&#039 ; re a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; driven restaurant. We own this restaurant. Our name&#039 ; s on the lease. You know, it&#039 ; s this is our mom pop restaurant. The back end is run the same way like a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurant. It&#039 ; s just presentation and everything it seems like you know we have a backer is backing this restaurant making this amazing food but no. So to say, even Darkoo&#039 ; s. Jimmy Niwa is my business partner. It&#039 ; s his money and my money into Darkoo&#039 ; s. Is no outside investors. So we still run like &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; shop. The people that work for us we treat them like family. You like we call them you like tribe members of Khao. You know Khao tribe members were part of the family. You know, we treat everyone like a family member. You&#039 ; re in a sticky situation. We get you out, you&#039 ; re sick. You need help? Need, you know, whatever bills? Where we help each and everybody out. Don&#039 ; t tell me your mom...And that&#039 ; s like the true essence of &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurants, right? Who&#039 ; s washing dishes? The owner&#039 ; s washing dishes. Who&#039 ; s cleaning the restroom? The owner&#039 ; s cleaning the restroom. I&#039 ; m cleaning the restroom. I&#039 ; m cleaning dishes. I&#039 ; m closing. I&#039 ; m opening up. You know, I&#039 ; m taking out of trash. That&#039 ; s the true essence of a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurant. And people to this day would argue me with that like, &quot ; It&#039 ; s not a &#039 ; mom and pop&#039 ; restaurant.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Yeah, you can say that. You can say whatever you want to say, but we are a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurant. We&#039 ; re funded by ourselves. We struggle like a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurant, you know, with nickel and diming everything because everything&#039 ; s inflation. You know, I have my nephew helping me out once a weekend in summer break. It&#039 ; s a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; establishment, a family establishment like exactly what I had with my mom&#039 ; s restaurant. It&#039 ; s just that not as much family members was working at my restaurant. But yeah, but the family member our industry family members. None of my workers are our family of mine, but they are my industry family, you know, our inner circle family where we take care of each other no matter what. |02:14:31| Brody That&#039 ; s really nice. You mentioned a couple of mentors earlier, too. Can you talk a little bit about who those mentors are? |02:14:41| Sirisavath So the first mentor is, of course, Chef Seng. She&#039 ; s like I said, she&#039 ; s...she reminds my mom. That&#039 ; s part of reason I wanted to first. So she started creating her Lao food almost identical as my mom&#039 ; s. She took over a Thai restaurant. Bangkok. Bangkok? Yes, Bangkok. So it was a Thai restaurant that she wanted to take over and then slowly trickling Lao food. And then because, you know, people only received Thai food, not Lao food. What is Lao food? And I think the same situation. I think her son was telling her like, &quot ; Why you don&#039 ; t cook food, Mom?&quot ; And then she started cooking Lao food at that restaurant. And then she was running that restaurant for about five to ten years. And then she decided to open a full-blown Lao restaurant in DC in the heart of the capital. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What? Who thinks like this, right? This is craziness.&quot ; Because no one knows Lao food. No one&#039 ; s going to go eat that at that restaurant because no one knows what it is. But she had faith in herself and believed in her craft that she can do something and will get well-received from. You know, of course, everything else...It is a slow start at times. She was you know, she was a little older, right. She was in her forties, mid-forties or early forties when she opened her Hanuman and then know competing with these younger chefs, networking at, you know, Michelin star restaurants, you know James Beard nominees. It&#039 ; s like she&#039 ; s competing with these guys and then like she&#039 ; s hitting these awards, you know, semi-finalist back-to-back, years after years. You know, Food &amp ; Wine. A Michelin Guide. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; This lady is like super star.&quot ; And she is. And still to this day, she is. And then me and my brother at the time, when I was doing my pop up. Me and my brother was doing a side project, we were doing beef jerky. So my brother wanted to do beef jerky, you know, to make just some, you know, some income on side, you know, and he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; You want to go in with me?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I guess, you know?&quot ; At that time, his wife just came from Lao, and he needed something for her to do. And they were doing it and like the jerky was okay, you know, and then my brother&#039 ; s like, &quot ; You remember mom&#039 ; s recipe?&quot ; And like, I mean, you know, &quot ; It&#039 ; s all up here and in here, so I can mimic it, you know, give me, give me a couple tries on and there&#039 ; s a couple of runs made a jerky.&quot ; It&#039 ; s just like, &quot ; Man, this is good.&quot ; And my brother&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Yeah, it&#039 ; s like Mom&#039 ; s.&quot ; Like, yeah, I was like, &quot ; If you want to do this, we can go forward on this.&quot ; So we started that business, literally just make it from home. And then my brother&#039 ; s like, we need to spread this word. And we, you know, social media was the thing. So we got on social media and ____ So _____ means like, come in like also sound like &quot ; mother.&quot ; So _____ means like, &quot ; come, come, come.&quot ; Enjoy some eat or a moment with us to enjoy our culture. So we started it and at the same time, Chef Seng started Lao Food Movement to showcase Lao food and, you know, uplifting our community, introducing people to what Lao food is. And she&#039 ; s the _____ of that movement. And that&#039 ; s part of the reason that why I was like, &quot ; I need to meet this lady.&quot ; And she actually reached out to us while we were doing _______. It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Hey, you know, this is, you know, Chef Seng. We&#039 ; re doing Lao Food Movement and we want to showcase you guys on our page. Take over our page.&quot ; And so we did. We never met in person. And it was just through messaging, social media. And then one day I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? Let&#039 ; s go to DC.&quot ; And I told my wife, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s go to DC. I want to meet Chef Seng.&quot ; And we messaged. She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Actually, I&#039 ; m coming here.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Oh, what? Okay.&quot ; She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Yeah, I&#039 ; m coming down. You know, I just want to...I heard there&#039 ; s a lot of Lao restaurants, apparently in Texas.&quot ; Like, &quot ; Yeah, you know, Texas is the second largest Lao community, you know, outside of Laos.&quot ; So she came and we met, took her around different Lao restaurants and we just got to talking, talking. And at the time I was doing the pop up, kind of went away from doing the jerky, doing more of the pop ups. So and I just happened to ask her like, you know, guidance and it&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Yeah.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Try the food.&quot ; She&#039 ; s like &quot ; Your food&#039 ; s pretty amazing. You know, I&#039 ; m not trying to make your head swollen.&quot ; But yeah, I was like, &quot ; Okay, good. That&#039 ; s over with.&quot ; And so then I was like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m thinking about owning a restaurant.&quot ; She said, &quot ; You are?&quot ; I was like, &quot ; Okay.&quot ; And we&#039 ; re in the process of building out. And she gave me some guidance of how to run the kitchen, what to look for first hiring and product building. And so then we went to DC as well, met her up in DC, looked at the restaurant like, &quot ; Oh my gosh. The restaurant&#039 ; s phenomenal.&quot ; Saw how she ran a kitchen, saw how she ran her business, doing more recipe building with her, kind of seeing what she does on her recipe, how I can use the meals like that for my restaurant. And it just went from there. And then, literally, we just connected so much because like I said, I needed a mother figure, and she was. I&#039 ; m like to this day, I mean, she&#039 ; s probably ten years older than I am, but she felt, I feel like she&#039 ; s a mother figure. Because she has that the essence of like how my mom is. Very passionate and wanted to share her culture with everyone and anyone and also giving guidance and my mom&#039 ; s always that person to give guidance. So yeah, that&#039 ; s my main mentor. And then, you know, a friend, a buddy Dien Nguyen, he owns Wabi House. At a time, we did a pop up together and he&#039 ; s just like, &quot ; Every food is phenomenal too.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You need to open a restaurant and whatever you need guidance on to open a restaurant I&#039 ; m there for you.&quot ; And he was down the street so convenient too. So I&#039 ; m like asking him every question impossible like to do like and he&#039 ; s always...And the thing with him, he always put me in my place where like you need to listen to yourself, don&#039 ; t listen to anyone else. Don&#039 ; t compare to yourself or anyone else. Don&#039 ; t let negative feedback get to you. And I&#039 ; m that person like I let negative feedback, get to me all the time and he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; No, I&#039 ; ve been through this. It&#039 ; s like, you going to go through a lot, and I know you&#039 ; re gonna take it to heart on some things, but you need to literally don&#039 ; t listen to the noise. Seriously and just concentrate, move forward, and go straight forward.&quot ; And so, &quot ; Okay, cool.&quot ; Then I met Jimmy Niwa, one mentor/friend/business owner now partner. Like he has so many years&#039 ; experience in restaurant, twenty years&#039 ; experience in hotel, corporate teaching, so on and so forth. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; That guy, he knows everything.&quot ; And I just happened to connect with him because we have the same PR person and we&#039 ; ve gone through this, you know, same situation of like, no, our business not going...Because you know, Niwa, same thing- communal cooking. You&#039 ; re like you can&#039 ; t do communal cooking in a space like that and especially inside like, &quot ; Oh my God.&quot ; So we were both going through the same situation. So I looked for him for guidance and we helped each other, you know, uplift ourselves through the pandemic. You know, he&#039 ; s doing a lot better than me, apparently, but I&#039 ; m getting there because, you know, for me personally, I&#039 ; m still young. For us being in this industry, you know, even though my age is older, but I&#039 ; m still new to the industry and still learning a lot. So my mentors is, you know, the group of people I have in my group, in my corner is the people that I need in my life. And also, you know, I have friends that are from my Food &amp ; Wine group. You know, I feed off of their energy too, I&#039 ; ll just reach out to them, same as the writers. You know, they always reach out to me. Bon Appetit as well. So it&#039 ; s kind of like checking in. &quot ; Hey, how are you? You good?&quot ; It&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Thank you. I appreciate that.&quot ; I think, you know, winning awards, you don&#039 ; t, you know, anticipate like editors calling you or emailing you, checking up on you, making sure you&#039 ; re okay. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh damn. Wow. Thank you, guys.&quot ; I thought &quot ; I win this award and that&#039 ; s it!&quot ; |02:23:38| Brody Part of a community. |02:23:40| Sirisavath Yeah. And the food community is a community. And the industry is...It&#039 ; s a big family. Because, you know, for me, like, I have not experienced enough. So many chefs have experienced more than I have, so I look for them for guidance as well too. So I mean, at the end of the day, food does bring people together and connects people together from the hardest and darkest time, food does help you find your way. And that&#039 ; s what I&#039 ; m doing with food. Food is helping me find my way again. And that&#039 ; s where we&#039 ; re at right now. |02:24:16| Brody Oh, I&#039 ; m so happy to hear that. And I&#039 ; m really, really honored to have had the chance to talk to you. Thank you so much for sitting for this interview. Is there anything that I didn&#039 ; t ask that we might want to include? |02:24:29| Sirisavath I don&#039 ; t know. Maybe after listening to this and we have a round two. |02:24:34| Brody Okay. Thank you again. It&#039 ; s an honor. |02:24:36| Sirisavath Betsy, appreciate 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




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