New Haven’s first Laotian restaurant — Pho Ketkeo at 21 Temple St. — will open its doors to the public in a grand opening Saturday.
The restaurant, the brainchild of a Laotian mother-daughter duo, will serve specialties such as pho, curry, sausage and a crepe called dan xeo. Co-owner Christine Son, who is half-Chinese and opening the restaurant with her Laotian mother, Ketkeo Rajachack, said the restaurant will also serve Thai cuisine, which can be found at several other locales downtown. Son and her mother added Thai staples to the menu to draw in New Haven residents already familiar with that cuisine, Son said.
“New Haven is an up-and-coming city,” Son said. “I’ve been noticing that it’s kind of the food mecca in Connecticut, which is what led me to want to open up here.”
She added that the growing economic vitality of downtown New Haven, as well as the customer base of college students from Yale and the University of New Haven, contributed to their decision to open a restaurant.
The eatery’s grand opening will be the culmination of a decade of work for Rajachack in her second business as a caterer. Rajachack, who received only a third-grade education and soldered microchips at Microwave Video Systems for 20 years, said she catered five to six events per month as a side business for additional income.
Rajachack decided to devote herself full-time to the catering business after Microwave Video Systems laid her off last March, Son said. Rajachack’s new job in Fairfield paid her only half of her previous income, so Son advised her mother to focus instead on her cooking business, she said.
“Every day she got home from her daytime job and then catered for the Laotian community,” Son said. “So I told her since she was working full-time that she might as well open a restaurant.”
Once open, the restaurant — which sits across the street from Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas — will bring the Elm City the citrus and herb tastes of Laotian cuisine. Son said that compared to Thai cuisine, Laotian food uses fewer coconut-based and sugar ingredients.
Roger Lopez ’18, who enjoys both Laotian and Thai cuisine, said he looks forward to visiting Pho Ketkeo when it is open.
“It’s definitely not what you would find in a diner in the Midwest,” he said. “But it’s probably tastier if you can handle the spice.”