Funded by Honeycomb: Restaurant Owner brings Lao Food to Pittsburgh through Crowdfunding
Updated: Jul 14, 2021
Longtime residents of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood probably are familiar with Bangkok Balcony, one of the neighborhood’s first Thai restaurants. In fact, it’s something of a landmark in the neighborhood for eighteen years.
Since 2019, this local institution has received a facelift and rebranded as Kiin, a concept that celebrates both Thai and Laotian cuisine thanks to a Honeycomb campaign that raised $33,658.
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Picking up global inspiration and bringing it home
Chances are, if you’ve been to Kiin, you might have seen the restaurant’s owner, Norraset Nareedokmai. Nor came to Pittsburgh as a graduate student, where he got his MBA and MIS at Duquesne. After a while working in the IT industry, he decided to follow his passion for food and open a Thai restaurant.
During his first 18 years as a restaurateur, Nor opened Bangkok Balcony and another local restaurant, Silk Elephant, changing the culinary landscape of Squirrel Hill in the process. However, it was on a trip back home to Thailand where he first got the idea for rebranding his already successful business into Kiin.
Nor also visited Laos on this trip, and he was struck by how similar Laotian and Thai cuisine are, yet Laotian food is practically unknown to most of the United States! So, he decided that he wanted to integrate this sister cuisine into his restaurant back in Pittsburgh.
Nor didn’t want to abandon the Thai favorites that customers of Bangkok Balcony loved, so he decided to keep Thai food in the restaurant’s rebranding as well. Rebranding a beloved community staple took a lot of courage, and Nor wanted to make sure that it would be done intentionally and respectfully.
Nor trained with Laotian chef Seng Luangrath in Washington D.C. to make sure he was giving Laotian food the credit it deserves. Kiin means “eat” in both Laotian and Thai, and so he thought it was the perfect name for his new business.
Renovating his restaurant and his neighborhood
Another small business owner friend introduced Nor to Honeycomb, and he saw a connection between his investment in the Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh community and Honeycomb’s crowd-investing model.
“We want the community to see that we are growing the business with them,” he says. “We want to be here, we want to be part of the community, and we want them to be part of our business as well.”
The goal for Kiin’s Honeycomb campaign was to revamp the menu with the help of Chef Luangrath, and freshen up the interior design to complete this restaurant rebrand. Nor installed new seating, a bar, and a papaya salad station, so customers could see this dish created before their eyes. He also brought in Laotian artist Henley Bounkhong to create the restaurant’s distinctive graffiti-like wall art and adorned the ceiling of the restaurant with cultural objects found in street food alleys in Laos and Thailand.
“I’m not Lao,” says Nor, “but I still want to honor the cuisine. I want to respect and honor the integrity of the flavor profile.”
In addition to the influx of capital for his restaurant’s rebranding, the Honeycomb campaign also brought Nor a huge burst of marketing buzz just in time for the launch of the new restaurant concept. Kiin got a lot of media attention, appearing in Pittsburgh Magazine, NEXTPittsburgh, and was ranked one of the best new restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2019.
However, one of the most important benefits to Nor has been the increased community awareness of Kiin and Lao food. Because Kiin is one of only a few Lao restaurants in the United States, Nor sees potential in expanding into other neighborhoods to bring the concept to more audiences.
Nor’s advice to business owners considering a Honeycomb campaign is, “Always believe in what you’re working on and working with Honeycomb… if you have a gut feeling that this is going to be the project that you think will be successful, work together with Honeycomb and they’ll have the resources to guide you through and make sure that you can deliver what your dreams are.”
What’s next after the restaurant rebranding?
So far, the community response to Kiin has been overwhelmingly positive.
“You know, even people in this space say ‘Wow, Squirrel Hill really needs this,’” says Nor. “‘It’s something totally different than what we have on the street.’”
Nor’s goals are to make the restaurant into the best it possibly can be, work to bring more authenticity to Squirrel Hill and to be a part of the community’s growth.
How does Nor know when it’ll be time to grow more? “I think it’s when you feel comfortable, to make sure you’re able to stabilize the operation and be able to be consistent.” Then, he’ll know when it’s time to take the next step.
Looking to rebrand your restaurant?
Whether you’re rebranding or starting a new venture, a Honeycomb campaign can boost your goals forward with the help of your community. Raise $15,000-$500,000+ to get your restaurant dreams moving, and build marketing buzz in your community along the way. Learn more about crowdfunding on Honeycomb at https://www.honeycombcredit.com/restaurant
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