A sister-led Lao and Thai food restaurant in the Crossroads hopes to deliver an authentic taste of southeast Asian culture to Kansas City. Among its first challenges: picking which family recipes win a spot on the menu.
Nang Nang Lao-Thai opened in late February at the Crossroads Food Stop, a “cloud kitchen” with 10 local restaurants under one roof, and plans to add more. A cloud kitchen means that the restaurants only accept delivery and takeout orders.
Click here to order Nang Nang for delivery or takeout.
Nang Nang is co-owned by sisters Andi and Dianna Sanesanong, who receive help in running the business from their sister, Lisa; mother, Sone; and father, Khammone.
“Our parents have been in the restaurant business since we were young,” Dianna said. “We grew up running around the restaurant helping out. We’ve been in the kitchen basically all our lives just watching our parents cook.”
Sone and Khammone immigrated from Laos to the United States as refugees during the Vietnam War, Lisa said. They were originally placed in Seattle before relocating to Berkeley, California, where they opened their restaurant.
In 2006, everyone but Andi moved to Kansas City, and after many years out of the restaurant business, the Sanesanong family is now bringing its “authentic flavor” to local diners, Lisa said, as a means of sharing Lao culture.
“We love to share our culture with people,” Lisa said. “We grew up going to Thai temple, learning how to Lao and Thai dance, and also preserve the culture. So this is another form, and another way, we’re maintaining that culture for our family and our parents.”
Focused start with Food Stop
Despite not having inherited her parents’ culinary skills, Lisa found out about the opportunity at Crossroads Food Stop in November and immediately reached out to her sisters, she said.
“When I saw this location had opened up, I liked the idea because I have a marketing background, and I understood the restaurant business,” Lisa said. “I knew that both of my sisters wanted restaurants — they’re really great cooks — so I figured I’d pitch this to them.”
After some initial hesitation about taking on more responsibility on top of her full-time job as a flight attendant, Dianna agreed to join Andi, who still lives in the Bay area, as a co-investor and co-owner in Nang Nang Lao-Thai.
“[Andi] always wanted a restaurant,” Dianna said. “I just like to cook. It’s always been a passion, and I’ve been told by a lot of my friends that I need to open a restaurant.”
The cloud kitchen concept especially appealed to the Sanesanongs, Dianna added, because it allows them to focus on doing what they enjoy: cooking.
“[Running a restaurant] is a lot of work,” Dianna said. “You start really early, you end really late, and it’s just exhausting on your body. With this concept, we like it more because we don’t have to juggle between dealing with a customer and running back to the kitchen. … This method of focusing on just online ordering seems to be easier for us.”
Cooked with passion, consistency
Since the plan to open Nang Nang Lao-Thai came together in a short amount of time, the Sanesanong family worked quickly to perfect the food’s flavor and the customer experience, Lisa said.
As the family cultivated the restaurant’s menu, some friendly competition broke out among Dianna, Andi, Sone, and Khammone to see whose dish would be the one served at Nang Nang Lao-Thai.
“They all cook differently, and they all have different styles,” Lisa said. “What we had to do was have them all cook a dish and then say, ‘OK whose do we like best? You win, we’re keeping it.’ Then, we write down the recipe and make everyone else practice it.”
The idea is to create a consistent experience for the customer every time while also catering to different tastes and preferences, something Dianna said the Sanesanongs have been doing for years even within their own family.
“We came from a big family, but everybody was so picky,” Dianna said. “My two brothers, one likes no onion, one likes lots of noodles and no cilantro, so I’d have to cook three different versions of the same dish. So, I’m used to catering to each person.”
Click here to check out the menu at Nang Nang.
However, one thing that never changes, Dianna said, is the passion and love the family puts into each dish.
“Our food is cooked with passion,” Dianna said. “I tell my mom if she’s not happy, ‘Get out of the kitchen. You’re not cooking, because we don’t have angry cooks. You’ve got to cook it with love.’ And that’s what we do.”
Let’s get Lao
For now, the menu features mostly Thai food, though the Sanesanongs plan to add more Lao dishes, Dianna said.
“We just want people to be more aware of Lao food,” Dianna said. “I know people know Thai food, but as far as Lao food, a lot of people are still unaware of what it is.”
The food can serve as a vehicle to educate people about Laotian culture, said Lisa, who plans to make videos showing people how to eat properly — for example, sticky rice is supposed to be eaten with your hands, not a fork.
Even the name Nang Nang is a reflection of Laotian culture, as “nang” translates to “miss.” Since the restaurant is co-owned by two women, the name honors them and their cultural heritage, in addition to being catchy and easy to remember, Lisa said.
By preserving and sharing their family’s culture through Nang Nang Lao-Thai, the Sanesanong sisters hope most to honor their parents, without whom they never would have had this opportunity, Dianna said.
“I think we’re making our parents proud,” Dianna said. “Because they came from poverty in Laos. They came from nothing, and now here we are.”