This Virtual Restaurant Delivers a First-of-Its-Kind Taste of Laos to Chicago
November 18, 2022
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When Stacy Seuamsothabandith moved to Chicago from the Quad Cities nearly nineteen years ago, she was surprised that she couldn’t find any food from her native Laos within the city. A few dishes might be on the menu at a restaurant serving fare from neighboring Northern Thailand, but there wasn’t a dedicated place serving the dishes that she grew up eating. So she teamed up with her brother Keo Seuamsothabandith and husband Byron Gully to provide the comfort of home-cooked meals to others while also working to introduce Laotian food to diners looking to try something new.
“When friends and colleagues try Lao cuisine for the first time, their response is always ‘Oh wow, this is delicious. This is a different experience,’” Stacy says. “Chicago is such an open market that loves to explore new cuisines.”
Laos to Your House launched in July, with Keo cooking dishes inspired by his mother’s recipes, such as spicy green papaya salad, beef egg rolls, and caramelized rice noodles mixed with pork. Initially, most of the orders, which are only available for pickup and delivery, came from their friends and family along with customers who were already familiar with Laotian food. But word quickly spread through social media and a handful of stories written about the business.
“COVID was really bad, but I think it helped the market to accept that you don't have to go to a physical restaurant to experience the cuisine,” Gully says. “That's a trend that I think will hold, especially as we get into the colder months.”
Laos to Your House has also partnered with DwellSocial, which brings food from popular Chicago restaurants such as Manny’s Deli and Sun Wah BBQ to the suburbs.
“You're talking about big, physical restaurants that have been around for years, so the fact that [DwellSocial] were willing to take a chance on us, a company that just launched literally in July, is awesome,” Stacy says.
She says she doesn’t expect to ever have a dine-in option. Instead, they plan to focus on adding more days of operation and hosting pop-ups to introduce the concept to a wider audience. They’ll have their first event on December 5, as part of the Chicago Reader's Monday Night Football at the Kedzie Inn.
“This allows us to focus purely on the food,” Gully said. “We have day jobs and we're new in the restaurant space, so there's a lot of complexities, like having to find a good location and having to find staff, that could take us away from delivering on the authentic Lao cuisine experience.”
Stacy and Gully have developed a video series called “You Got LAO’d” to teach people about Lao cuisine and culture. (You can find the videos on their website.) There are lessons in Lao words, suggestions on pairing the food with cognac, and a humorous video promoting one of their LAOcuterie boards—a sampler platter featuring wings, beef jerky and spicy sausage—as a way to spice up your football game watching experience.
“Not only are we the owners of the company, but we're also the director and the actor,” Stacy says. “I think any time you do any funny reel, it always captures people's attention. It also lets them get to know us as opposed to just seeing beautiful pictures of the food and the dishes.”
One of the main focuses is educating diners on how to eat Laotian food. Instead of using utensils, dishes are traditionally scooped up with other food.
“Chef Keo does an awesome job; they're so flavorful,” Gully says. “When you add in eating them with the sticky rice or the lettuce or the cabbage or the cucumber, there's such a synergistic experience.”
Gully, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, also appears in a video warning those who haven’t tried Laotian food to tread carefully with the traditional spicy and sour dipping sauce jeow som, which is made with cilantro and fresh chili peppers. Laos to Your House is able to get most of the ingredients they need from Vietnamese vendors.
"It's very hot sauce,” Stacy says. “Don't start with a whole tablespoon on one bite."
Keo is currently cooking out of the commercial space Kitchen Chicago in West Town, but is planning on moving to the food and beverage incubator The Hatchery Chicago in East Garfield Park. Laos to Your House will be using the incubator’s resources to continue to grow their business while juggling the demands of multiple jobs.
“We're working our normal eight to five, and then switching gears to Laos to Your House,” Stacy says. “We're really putting in a lot of time and a lot of effort into this, but it doesn't feel like work when you're passionate about it.”
Gully and Stacy say they enjoy working together as partners in life and business.
“There's nothing like working with your partner in something that both empowers you, that drives you, that causes you to laugh out loud, cry, express doubts, then get hopeful,” he says. “There's such a range of emotions and opportunities and rewards I just think I've felt with this.”
Stacy agrees, even though their brainstorming sessions can sometimes get a bit heated.
“Basically each day we keep going, the more that we grow, the more that we learn,” she says. “We find a mistake, we make some changes and we apply it. We're receptive to each other's opinions. At the end of the day, we all have the same mission.”