From operating a food truck to opening a carry-out and delivery restaurant, Sonephet Manivong has spent the past decade working to make his entrepreneurial endeavors come to life.
Since college, he’s always wanted to be his own boss. But he wasn’t sure what type of business or industry to pursue. Then, after he had the opportunity to work at his uncle’s restaurant in Ithaca, New York, Sonephet decided the type of cuisine his family cooked at home would be a hit with the general public.
“When I saw how accepting and popular the cuisine was there, I realized I could bring that back to my hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska,” Sonephet said.
He started his food truck business, Sticky Rice, in April 2011 and has served food from it at special events around the Grand Island area. And, now, after 10 years, he’s in the process of moving his business into its permanent home.
Sonephet will continue to offer the same great dishes his customers have come to love, now with the convenience of staying in one location.
“Most Asian restaurants serve just one locale of cuisines, like only Chinese, Japanese, or Thai,” he said. “What makes our restaurant unique is that we serve cuisines from three different parts of Asia—Thailand, Laos, and China. It’s not fusion food either; we serve dishes such as pad thai noodles from Thailand, sticky rice from Laos, and General Tso from China.”
Sonephet searched for financing to help open the restaurant, and a friend suggested he reach out to Raul Arcos Hawkins from the Center for Rural Affairs.
As a business development specialist with the Center, Raul specializes in helping business owners like Sonephet find access to funds, among his other duties. With Raul’s guidance, Sonephet applied for and received a COVID-19 relief grant administered by the Center, with funds provided by Wells Fargo.
The funds helped Sonephet finance the signage for Sticky Rice as well as cover some ongoing business expenses.
“Working on this grant provided more insight on how complex and critical owning a business during the pandemic was,” said Raul. “I learned how much business owners like Sonephet carried on their shoulders—it was a great opportunity to hear those stories and be able to provide some advice while doing the intake.”
Until the restaurant officially opens, Sonephet will continue to cook from his food truck, which he’ll keep parked next to his business’ future home. Once the restaurant is operational, he’ll no longer be the sole worker at Sticky Rice, and will have the help of five to eight other employees.
Sonephet has worked hard throughout his long entrepreneurial journey, and says he’s grateful for the help he’s received along the way.
“After being denied for other funding, I was surprised and delighted to find that Raul worked on my behalf to find financing,” said Sonephet. “He was really professional and went out of his way to make sure the Center would help my business. I can’t thank him enough for that.”
At a glance
605 W. Koening, Grand Island, Nebraska 68801
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 5 to 8 p.m.
Website (preferred for ordering and menu prices)