Top 100 Dallas Restaurants: A Pioneering Lao Restaurant Is Up for Sale
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(Note: we’re reviewing some of Brian Reinhart’s recommendations for our annual list of the 100 best Dallas restaurants to eat to see how they’re doing in hopefully the final months of the pandemic.)
Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai Kitchen, a 3 year old Laotian restaurant in downtown Irving, is up for sale after months of battling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant is open for now and is still serving its acclaimed pasta bowls and fried pork ribs. However, it could close quickly if a buyer is found.
Family members behind Sapp Sapp are some of the original Lao-American restaurateurs in North Texas; Their original business, Nalinh Market, has been cooking for over 15 years and is still going strong.
Sapp Sapp opened in the summer of 2017 and has been on Observer’s list of 100 best restaurants every year since then. It’s one of the best places in the area to try noodle soups like sukiyaki, kapoon, kow piak, and a bowl of pho with a whole rib of beef. An off-menu marinated rib eye special attracted loyal customers who called to reserve their steaks in advance.
But owner Xay Senephoumy, who works in the kitchen with his mother, Boonmie Phennara, says many of their most loyal customers have traveled long distances to visit the restaurant, making it particularly vulnerable to the pandemic as it doesn’t take orders from neighbors can count.
“The majority of our customer base, at least 90% of them, consists of travel around the subway, and with COVID people are a little extra careful when traveling,” Senephoumy says.
Some of his most loyal regulars were martial artists and coaches who worked out at a Fort Worth gym, including defending champions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Xay Senephoumy, owner of Sapp Sapp Lao & Thai Kitchen
“After their fights, they had to do their weights and so on and they starved, so they made it a tradition to come here and eat,” explains Senephoumy. “The news was spread by the other UFC fighters, and they stopped by while they were in town. I’ve been a fan since the UFC’s first caveman days in 1992, before anyone knew they existed. But they are really humble so they kind of starry at me. I’m not a star, I’m a fucking cook am I? So they look at me the same way I do when I feed them. “
The first few months of 2020 included Sapp Sapp’s best winter months, but the pandemic hit them hard. The last time we spoke with Senephoumy, he said that business was down 90% and that he had not received any government support from the Paycheck Protection Program. He recently secured funding in the second round of the PPP – but the support barely amounted to a thousand dollars.
“I don’t feel bitter about anyone,” he says now. “I’m kind of mad at the government. We have already talked about how none of the little people got the money and all the big people got the money. We expected that would help us stay afloat, but it didn’t. But I have no one to blame. … I am grateful for every minute. “
Although Senephoumy is looking for a buyer for his space, he is glad that he was able to serve his food for over three years. His loyal patrons have asked about the option of a food truck or new restaurant, but the only thing he wants to plan now is a long break from the exhaustion of running a restaurant during a pandemic.
Sapp Sapp, when his days end, will leave a legacy as a restaurant that has helped many locals in Irving and Dallas learn about Laotian food. In the years since it opened, Dallas’s Laotian food scene has been recognized nationwide for its importance.
“We have people who come in and thank us for opening their minds to our culture. We have people who tell us facts they’ve researched or speak our language,” says Senephoumy. “That’s all I ever wanted. I’ve used food as a tool. I wanted to have a bigger impact on the Dallas community and make people more aware of our people and our culture. “
Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai Kitchen, 120 S. Main St., Irving.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer’s food critic since spring 2016. He also writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for Observer and MusicWeb International.