“On a normal day, I get up at 5 in the morning. After getting dressed I reach my shop, open the oven and start preparing the meat at around 7 to 7:30 a.m. depending on the traffic,” explains Chai, seated at the dining area near the restaurants at Hmongtown Marketplace. “I try my best to get everything ready before customers arrive at around 9.”
Chai is the co-owner of Chai’s Cooking, one of many Hmong-owned restaurants at Hmongtown Marketplace. She runs the restaurant with the help of her husband Cha, who works at the Boston Scientific Corporation for about 8-9 hours daily. Together they opened the restaurant in September last year as Chai wished to co-own
a shop with her husband. The restaurant keeps the couple busy and gives them an opportunity to mingle with other Hmong immigrants who also own shops at the marketplace. Chai and Cha have owned a restaurant in the past, which they shut down to work full-time.
Visitors at the Hmongtown Marketplace are often seen lounging on the seats in the dining area cherishing the taste of authentic Hmong food. The cuisine serves both Hmong residents looking to reconnect with their culture through food or other food enthusiasts eager to reward their taste buds with new flavors. Chai cooks her food from scratch with fresh locally grown produce. Her kitchen is kept impeccably clean and organized, food beautifully garnished and displayed at the entrance as she greets every visitor with a welcoming smile.
Cha comes in around 4:30 everyday to help with the rest of the chores of the day. The vegetables and herbs are also bought by him. “We just opened last September so we are fairly new to this. But I want to make some changes in the shop and I hope this will be the right way for us to take,” said Cha.
When I visited the couple at their shop last month, some of their food was already sold out. Food is one of the major draws of the Hmongtown Marketplace.
This is one of a number of articles produced by students at Macalester as part of a New Media class.