Aung Htaw, 35 and his mother Don Ma Ngay, 54, are the latest Burmese to open a business in Fort Wayne.
The new business is the Pad Thai Restaurant, 3307 E State Blvd. They specialize in Thai and Burmese cuisine. Aung Htaw said they have more Thai on their menu then Burmese because Thai food can be prepared faster than traditional Burmese dishes.
Fourteen years ago, Aung Htaw and his mother came to America from the Rajburi Camp on the Thai-Burma border. They lived in Harrisburg, Penn., for eight months before moving to Fort Wayne, where they had friends and family.
His mother has worked for Vera Bradley over the years, but always cooked for people on the side.
“She worked in Burma as a food contractor at a college food court,” Aung Htaw said.
Aung Htaw has spent his time in Fort Wayne working and learning to speak English. He took some classes for a while but eventually found a factory job at Kautex Inc. in Avilla.
“Every day, I think about going back to school,” Aung Htaw said.
Aung Htaw would need a GED and then go onto college. So far that hasn't worked out, but even at 35, he remains positive he will go back.
The new restaurant opened Jan. 19, and for the eight months prior to that he and his mother were involved in setting up the business. It hasn't been easy; it involves a lot of paperwork and procedures to follow, not to mention to setting up the kitchen to meet the standards of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health food safety measures.
Aung Htaw said his name is on the business but it is really his mother and his aunt who put up most of start-up money.
“We still aren't making any money, but we can cover our costs and pay the help,” Aung Htaw said.
Running the business had been a new experience for Aung Htaw and his mother.
“We don't have an accountant,” Aung Htaw said.
There are a growing number of Burmese businesses in Fort Wayne, Minn Myint Nan Tin, executive director of the Burmese Advocacy Center said, including restaurants, grocery stores, a beauty salon and a tech store.
Minn Myint Nan Tin said they are doing an educational session the first weekend in April to help small business owners learn more about managing their finances. Aung Htaw said he plans on attending.
For now, the new restaurant is relatively simple: two rows of tables on a clean tile floor, with a counter and cash register at the back. In the future Aung Htaw said he envisions making the décor a blend of Asian and western to appeal to both cultures. He would like to add a lounge so people could gather and sit and talk.
Aung Htaw said he visited numerous restaurants in Indiana before setting up theirs; he wanted to appeal to both cultures with the décor. He said he also visited all the other Thai restaurants in the town, and no one has the same Pad Kee Mai on their menu that they do; it is their specialty. The taste, Aung Htaw said, comes from the special sauce they make. It is made from fresh ground red chilies and they use a lot of fresh basil in the dish as well.
Hours for the restaurant are Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.