In an unassuming strip mall in Auburn, lives a new Lao/Thai restaurant called Sweet Rice. The fast-casual restaurant, started by two childhood friends, 37-year-old Eric Douangmany and 36-year-old Robert Saysana, features both Lao and Thai dishes, but with a heavy emphasis on Lao cuisine.

Douangmany, a former environmental chemist, and Saysana, a transmission repair business owner, decided just last year to venture into the restaurant business after Saysana visited family in Texas. For Saysana, his inspiration came from his uncle, who also happens to have a handful of successful Lao/Thai restaurants, ranging from fast-casual to fine dining.

Being at his uncle’s restaurant and seeing the passion that he had in sharing Lao food with others motivated Saysana into bringing that same energy back home to Washington. Saysana decided to extend the restaurant business to Auburn, with the same name and branding as his uncle’s restaurants in Texas.

For the two Lao-Americans, their goal for the restaurant is to share their culture with others through their food. Both are passionate about keeping their culture alive and hope that they will be able to educate others and inspire the younger generation to continue Lao traditions and knowledge. The accessibility of their food presents a great way for those who are unfamiliar with Lao cuisine to try out a variety of dishes.

The fast-casual restaurant has vibrant imagery on its walls, of Laos and its eponymous rice and rice fields. Douangmany stated that everything in the restaurant is representative of Laos – from the photos of their motherland to the sinh (traditional Lao garment used by Lao women as a tube skirt) that have been transformed into curtains and decor. While their menu will be a mix of Lao and Thai food, both Douangmany and Saysana say that there will be the ubiquitous Beerlao, along with other beer and wine. Some traditional Lao dishes that will be available include tum maak hoong (papaya salad), nam khao (crispy rice salad), Lao spicy sausage, Lao Heavenly beef jerky – and of course, sticky rice.

Through cultural education on Laos through food, Douangmany and Saysana hope to introduce Lao food to a broader audience and showcase their passion and love for Lao culture and cuisine.

Sweet Rice is located at 4017 A St SE #107, Auburn, WA 98002, and are open Tuesday-Sunday.

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