Quirky kitchen in Asian grocery leads to partnership with Hot ’n Spicy restaurant - Paycheck

Quirky kitchen in Asian grocery leads to partnership with Hot ’n Spicy restaurant

By Georgia Beaverson

            Restaurants are risky business for those seeking to open one. So when the Phothiboupha family saw the kitchen nestled into a back corner of Viet Hoa Supermarket in Monona, they were intrigued.

            “We saw an opportunity to be able to do something different in that small, quirky kitchen,” said restaurant owner Newton Sam Phothiboupha.

            At first just considering prepared foods and desserts, once they saw that the kitchen had some of the equipment needed for an actual restaurant, the family’s plan changed.

            “Much of the equipment was there, so that really helped in terms of keeping startup costs low,” Phothiboupha explained. “The location was also a huge factor when it came to the decision. We were hoping to get the customers from the supermarket to help get us started.”

            It made sense for a family-run Laotian-Thai restaurant to draw customers from an Asian grocery store’s clientele. Besides being a double draw for customers, the restaurant and grocery store offer each other additional benefits. For instance, when Hot ’n Spicy opened in October of 2018, they relied heavily on the supermarket’s foot traffic. Now that Hot ’n Spicy is established, Viet Hoa sells a wide variety of beverages to the restaurant’s patrons. Guests waiting for an order frequently browse the grocery store while they wait, acquainting themselves with the wide variety available there.

            Hot ’n Spicy has a solid, friendly social media footprint, which has helped spread the word throughout the larger Madison community surrounding Monona. The restaurant relies heavily on word-of-mouth, too.

            “We are proud to say that we have not spent any money on formal advertising,” Phothiboupha said. “We’d rather give that money back to our customers in different ways.” The restaurant holds a weekly giveaway for new dishes through Facebook, and sometimes slips loyal regulars a little something extra in a carryout bag.

            Customers are often curious about ingredients in some of the restaurant’s dishes, and the family is always happy to steer them in the right direction (benefiting Viet Hoa again!). The food is fresh, spicy (as advertised!), and tastes homemade. One customer declared that the Pad Thai and Panang Red Curry are the best she’s ever had. While she does make both dishes at home, Hot ’n Spicy has become a weekly ritual for her family. The restaurant also offers delicious fried chicken, Pho, spring rolls, and other dishes.

            Of course Covid-19 has had an impact on the business. The restaurant has had to cut back hours and take extra precautions to serve customers. Since the restaurant only has a small seating area and has always been mainly delivery and carryout, the family has continued to emphasize their curbside pickup and delivery service via social media. Hot ’n Spicy has also had to adjust prices as ingredient prices have risen. But the food offers excellent value for the money.

            Community is really what Hot ’n Spicy and Viet Hoa is all about. They have expanded a customer base by sharing clientele who often cross over and become customers of the other business. The restaurant’s excellent food, fresh ingredients, a very friendly staff, and loyal customers have given Hot ’n Spicy a solid start in a very difficult business world. But that’s not all.

            “I can confidently say that this is the happiest that I’ve seen my parents, ever,” said Phothiboupha. “The work is hard, with long hours of preparation and cooking, but the reward of seeing our customers’ faces light up and how excited they get talking to us, is well worth the trade-off.

            “We are grateful to feel so welcomed by the community and plan on serving the Monona/Madison area for as long as the great people here are willing to have us.”

Georgia Beaverson

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