For many restaurant owners, like Donny Sirisavath of Khao Noodle Shop, the last three months have meant iteration after iteration of business models: circling through takeout, a convenience-store model, and takeout again. Then, the idea for a pop-up series came to him like the vision for a band tour.
“Our main objective was to pop up outside our bubble,” Sirisavath says of the “band” tout—to reach north to Carrollton and Plano to friends with businesses that might also be suffering from diminished traffic during the pandemic.
On a recent Sunday, Sirisavath’s East Dallas shop hosted a boba pop-up with new boba vendor The Boba Plug, with drinks that included a one-off creation of salted limeade (a Vietnamese classic) infused with hints of kaffir lime (a Khao signature flavor). These pop-ups will host other businesses and continue biweekly, with drinks or desserts—summer ice cream, maybe—that compliment Khao’s menu and form one prong in a three-part effort to uplift the industry. The three prongs: the band-themed on-the-road-like tour, home-based pop-ups with drinks and desserts, and a kitchen takeover plan that might serve as an incubator.
The original name for the series involved the words “comeback” and “uplift,” but then he decided to keep it simple: It’s about collaborating—thus, the Khao-llaboration.
“Going on the road is like having a band tour: It takes a team to build just a pop-up,” he says. He’s contemplating having tickets that might function as backstage passes of sorts—VIP-level chances to score merchandise or talk to the business owners behind the scenes: “just bringing the community together.”
So far at least six restaurants, bars, and drink shops have signed on.
Sirisavath had aimed to start last Sunday, but pushed back the start in deference to the larger Black Lives Matter conversation unfolding everywhere. The first pop-up will be this Sunday at Bowl Mami, a juice and smoothie bowl shop in Carrollton. The rest of the line-up will include The Lowkey Poke Joint; Tasty Tails in Richardson; the bars Strangeways and Double Wide; Four Sisters Vietnamese pho restaurant in Fort Worth; Reyna Duong’s banh mi stand Sandwich Hag in the Cedars; and some which are still in the works. One is certain: People’s Last Stand, one of first places where Sirisavath held a pop-up, back when he was a fledgling boat-noodle operation.
It’s full circle. “Now we take that limelight and shine it on others,” he says. And his employees who never knew Khao Noodle as a pop-up can be roadies.
Sirisavath plans to organize menus around greatest hits, like his boat noodles and mee katee. And also release individual new dishes that won’t yet appear at Khao. This Sunday, you can expect a cold noodle dish with star fruit, tomatoes, betel leaf, vermicelli noodles, puffy rice, and a sauce laced with fermented fish sauce, which sounds like it will be savory and salty, crispy and refreshing. The cold noodle he’s never had at the noodle shop.
“Now we can use Khao as that platform to let others grow their business,” he says.
The elaborate plan for this mutual support was to build a food hall out of storage containers somewhere near the restaurant and treat it like an incubator. And allow other up-and-coming pop-ups to take over their kitchen. “Whoever wants to create a business, and they can work to perfect their business, their product,” says Sirisavath. He knows how hard it is, and how difficult to secure space. These ideas are still in the works. Eventually he’d like to create a fund to help feed those in need.
The idea is to pay it forward. Sirisavath is all about fostering that impetus.
“It’s the second wave,” he says. “You get all this fame, all this recognition, this success, but if you don’t give back, it’s not balanced for me.”