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Local Laotian pop-up restaurant SapSap to start beer company, open new space in March
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Local Laotian pop-up restaurant SapSap to start beer company, open new space in March

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RACINE — In 2016, when Alex Hanesakda created SapSap, which brought Laotian cuisine through pop-up dinners to Racine County, he was pursuing a homegrown passion for food and his culture.

Hanesakda wasn’t expecting his pop-up restaurant to move into a permanent space or that he’d also start a beer company, Thum Phuk, which was recognized by the U.S. Embassy on Monday.

SapSap is taking over the former Totero’s Restaurant building at 2343 Mead St. and is set to open in March. The move is coming after Hanesakda and his staff “outgrew the kitchen,” and saw success, consistently running out of their popular egg rolls, Lao-style beef jerky and other Laotian dishes.

“It’s always very humbling to sell out every time,” Hanesakda, 39, said about hosting his pop-up dinners locally and in the Milwaukee area.

And Thum Phuk — thum, which means “smashing” or “cheers,” and phuk, which means “chopping” in Laotian — or Thai-style papaya salad — got a shoutout from the Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy branch in Laos.

Thum Phuk will debut its first product, a sticky rice lager brewed by Low Daily Beer in Burlington, later this month. It will be found at SapSap’s new location and at Low Daily Beer, 700 N. Pine St., Burlington.

Alex Hanesakda

Hanesakda

Thum Phuk gained recognition from the U.S. Embassy because of Hanesakda’s donations to Laos. Five percent of every sale of the lager will go toward removing leftover unexploded bombs in Laos, where Hanesakda and his family are from.

“We’re a refugee family,” Hanesakda said. “War creates refugees and it creates veterans with PTSD, and we wanna heal worlds through food and Thum Phuk.”

SapSap also works with Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin in Racine, frequently donating a dollar amount from every meal to the organization. Hanesakda chose to support Veterans Outreach because his father was a military veteran.

“I saw him struggle, and I want to support other vets like him,” Hanesakda said. “Veterans come back (from war) with little to zero resources.”

In the new restaurant space, SapSap will still carry its popular dishes and expand its menu to add items like pho soup, khao soi noodles, and more Lao barbecue options in rotation. Additionally, they’ll sell jerky and sausage by the pound, pho kits to go, and different broths.

Hanesakda also plans to open up outdoor seating and a Thum Phuk beer garden by the summertime. One of Hanesakda’s goals for SapSap is to continue to be community-driven and find locally-grown ingredients, specifically from urban communities.

As for the grand opening in March, Hanesakda isn’t sure yet whether they’ll be able to have a proper celebration with the dining room open.

“We’re going to start slowly, offer curbside pickup, and go by the guidelines,” Hanesakda said.

Hanesakda is aware of how risky opening a business during COVID-19 is, but he believes SapSap and Thum Phuk have enough support to continue their growth.

“If we can start off in our dinky kitchen, then we can keep going,” Haneksada said.

SapSap is still located at The Branch at 1501 until its location opens, and customers can order for pickup on SapSap’s website. SapSap also is scheduled to have more pop-up dinner events until its opening at the Mead Street location. Details for those events can be found on SapSap’s Facebook page.

Thum Phuk will continue to share updates on the release date of its lager on its Facebook page.

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