When Noi Sithideth leaves his corporate accounting job at 3 p.m., he heads straight to his new restaurant, Banh Lao & Thai Cuisine in Kenwood, which opened May 22. For the rest of the evening, Sithideth serves up traditional Lao dishes that he’s been eating since he was a child.
The restaurant is a celebration of Sithideth’s heritage. Banh means village and Laos is the country where Sithideth’s family is from; they left when Sithideth was 3 years old.
It takes a village to keep Banh Lao running smoothly. While three of his nieces rotate serving, Sithideth, along with three sisters and an aunt, cook traditional Lao dishes. Other family members come in to help out where they can. “Without the contributions from my aunt, sisters, nieces, nephews, and brother-in-law, the restaurant would not be possible,” Sithideth says.
Sithideth’s sisters taught him how to cook, including dishes like Laab Gai, a minced chicken dish with cilantro and mint served over lettuce. He hopes that people will come try the authentic comfort food that he and his family eat on a regular basis.
“We want people to see what we eat and how we eat,” he says. “There are so many great dishes from home that are not on the menu. After we’ve been open a couple months, I’m going to trim down the menu and then add more authentic Lao dishes.”
That includes adding some Lao street food to the menu, and once things are back to normal, putting in a hand-washing station. “Typically, we eat with our hands at home,” Sithideth explains. “We want to make an experience where people can come here and come to the hand-washing station. We have bamboo holders for sticky rice. They can have that experience of hand-washing and eating sticky rice while dipping it into some of the hot sauce that we have.”
As for opening his restaurant during a global pandemic, Sithideth says that it’s been “kind of crazy.” When Ohio issued its stay-at-home order, he had to do some of the renovations himself, as he had a hard time getting contractors to come to the restaurant. Now, he’s taking every precaution to make sure patrons are safe.
“The majority of people are doing a lot of curbside and carryout,” Sithideth says. “We try to distance every other table. Our staff wear masks. We have a hand-sanitizing station at the front and Plexiglas that blocks people who come to pick up their order from the main dining area.”
Sithideth says he’s grateful for the support he’s seen since opening. “It’s not been what I expected. I’m pretty happy. The surrounding communities have been very accepting of us. So many people are complimenting us or sharing us on social media. We’re pretty grateful and thankful for the local communities accepting us.”