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‘The City of Philadelphia gave us a lot of resources.’

sunny phanthavong vientiane bistro
Owner of Vientiane Bistro, Sunny Panthavong (in pink sweater) poses with her staff in June 2021. (Photo by Khysir Carter)

Sunny Phanthavong

Co-owner of Vientiane Bistro, a Lao-Thai restaurant at 2537 Kensington Ave. 

Interviewed in June 2021

Editor’s note: The following responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

1. How were things for you and your business in the beginning of the pandemic? How would you compare the state of your business from then to now?

Right before the pandemic, our business was doing really well. We’ve always been a place for takeout. So when the pandemic hit, it was a rough two weeks. After the initial shutdown, we saw a dramatic dip in the business. That scared us because it felt like it was going to be over for us until we realized takeout began to pick up again. And we were like, “Okay, I guess we can stay open.” 

From then to now, it definitely stayed about the same. It grew a little bit because I started a new hot sauce business. It’s called Sunny’s Hot Chili. Basically, it’s something that I had already been making here. I was like, “It’s such a good sauce. Maybe I should just bottle it up and sell it.”

2. Can you describe how the City of Philadelphia has supported business owners throughout the pandemic? Have you felt supported by the city?

So the City of Philadelphia gave us a lot of resources to apply for different grants that were available to small business owners. I definitely applied for every single one that was available. For the most part, I did get approved. New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) reached out to me to let me know what opportunities were out there to help small businesses. Without them, I wouldn’t have these resources. 

3. Can you share your experience with managing safety in your business throughout the pandemic? (mask mandates, capacity restrictions, social distancing, etc.)

We followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and whatever the city told us to do. We followed the rules and regulations. We’ve always been about food safety, so we were already practicing food safety. 

When they wanted us to do the mask mandate, I put up a sign in front of the door. All the customers had to wear masks, and all the staff had to wear a mask. 

4. Can you share any moments in the last year where you faced a challenge that required you to find new ways to operate due to the pandemic?

That’s why I came up with the hot sauce. I definitely learned to budget a little bit better too. I also managed the staff. 

5. What is the best way for people to support your business?

The best way is to come out and dine in. We do seat people apart from each other if they don’t feel safe to come out to eat.

Also, if you want to do pickup orders, it’s better to call us instead of using Grubhub and Uber Eats because they do take a percentage. It takes away from our profit.

Editors: Khysir Carter, Jillian Bauer-Reese, Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Henry Savage

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