When chef Jeff Chanchaleune and his mixologist sister Jeslyn decided to open a Lao restaurant in their hometown of Oklahoma City, the two had already worked together on several restaurant concepts. But a foray into Lao food, the cuisine of their heritage, was different. The venture felt deeply personal.
Born to Lao immigrant parents, Jeff and Jeslyn grew up eating dishes from the Southeast Asian country but rarely saw their culture represented in mainstream American society, much less in their home city. In the U.S, restaurants focused on the cuisine of Laos are far less common than those associated with neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. “A Laotian restaurant has always been something I wanted to do,” says Jeff. But there was pressure from knowing that his cooking would be many local patrons’ first experience of his ancestral country’s foodways. “I didn’t think the city was ready. And also, I wasn’t ready.”