Christine Inthachith and Her Family’s American Dream
Promoting Lao Cuisine & Culture
Christine Inthachith, her mother and siblings came to the U.S.
from her native Laos in 1980 due to the aftermath of the
“I emigrated to the U.S. from Laos on December 31, 1980,” Inthachith said. “This year will mark our 40 years in Madison, Wisconsin. We were in the second wave of
refugees to leave Laos.”
Inthachith was 10-years-old at the time. No one in her family spoke English. And yet 40 years later, Inthachith has a master’s in education administration from UW-
Madison, is the director for International Non-Credit Programs at UW Division of Continuing Studies and she and members of her family own the Lao Laan Xang
restaurants on Madison’s east side.
Inthachith considers herself to be an eastsider, having gone to Marquette Middle School and East High School.
“I was an ELL learner,” Inthachith said. “A lot of it was visual. ‘Here’s your nose’ pointing at your nose. ‘Here’s your mouth’ pointing at your mouth.”
Inthachith went on to become the first Lao to earn an advanced degree from UW-Madison. And then did a lot of university and community work to assist others in
taking their lives to the next level.
“I started working for United Refugee Services and then the Nehemiah Community Development Corporation with Governor Thompson’s W-2 Program,” Inthachith
said. “I was out at Allied Drive for a year. From there, I worked in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. I was an admissions counselor. I was the first Southeast
Asian recruiter. From Admissions, I moved to the School of Education. And that’s where I worked in the PEOPLE Program for five years, from 1999 to 2005.”
After getting married in a Buddhist ceremony celebrated by her late uncle and having children, Inthachith, her husband and children left Madison until 2015 when
they returned home.
While Inthachith primarily focused on education, she and her mom also pioneered Laotian food on the Madison scene when they opened up Lao Laan Xang on
Odana Road in 1990 while Inthachith was still getting her degrees. While they wanted to share Lao cuisine and culture with Madison, Inthachith also wanted to get
her mother out of her factory job and into a kitchen because she is an excellent cook.
“It was Madison’s first Lao restaurant,” Inthachith said proudly. “We introduced Madison to sticky rice and other traditional Lao dishes that were not available in
Madison before we arrived.”
The Odana Road strip mall where Lao Laan Xang was located was not conducive to a Laotian restaurant and they closed it in 1997. But undeterred, they opened up
the second iteration of Lao Laan Xang on Williamson Street in 1997.
“I don’t know if you knew Willy Street before 1997,” Inthachith said. “It was a neighborhood that wasn’t desirable. People were like, ‘What are you doing there?’
There were a lot of issues in the neighborhood. That has changed a lot. It’s now very trendy and a lot of restaurants are opening up if you go down Willy Street. And
being part of that community and helping build that community to where it is today. I’m an eastside. We’ve been at Willy Street for 22 years now this October. Willy
Street has been really welcoming. We are invested in the community.”
Inthachith and her mother made their investment not only financially, but also through old-fashioned sweat equity.
“The Willy Street store was a mother-daughter business,” Inthachith recalled. “When we opened the restaurant, I had a full-time job and she also had a full-time job.
We opened with a limited menu back in 1997. I think we had maybe 17 items on the menu with both of us coming out from our jobs and starting this up. It was pretty
much family-focused. I had my brother and then my mom has been with me from the beginning. It was successful. We were able to have a lot of regular clientele.
For me, over the 23 years, it’s exciting to see and hear the popular press refer to Laotian cuisine with its own category. We appreciate that now in it recognizes that
we are unique in having our own listing. People are starting to taste the difference. We would like to think that we are responsible for starting this movement in
Madison. We were using fresh ingredients, locally-grown when available. It’s been good.”
While business has been good, it has been a challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They closed down for a while, but are now reopening for take-out and
delivery orders from 5-8 p.m. until the state loosens its restrictions and it is safe for Lao Laan Xang’s staff. If you are interested in a change of pace, visit https:
//www.laolaan-xang.com/ for authentic Lao cuisine.
Next issue: The restaurant business
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
When the smoke had cleared after the end of the Indochinese Wars in Southeast Asia in the
1970s, it was clear to Christine Inthachith’s family that they would have to flee their native land of
Laos. The Communist Pathet Lao had won the civil war and it was time to flee. Her mother
packed up Inthchith, her two brothers and sister and headed for the refugee camps in Thailand.
“We crossed the Mekong River through Laos,” Inthachith said. “I remember my mom paid
someone to put my sister, my younger brother and I on the boat to cross the Mekong River. Once
we got closer to the Thai border, we jumped off the boat pretending that we were basically Thai
children. My family came with basically nothing. My mom stayed back with my brother and my
sister. We had a family member in Thailand, so we stayed with them. My mom tried to sell off our
house, property and other valuable items.”
Unlike many families that spent up to four years in the camps, Inthachith’s family spent only three
months in the Nong Khai refugee camp and then headed for a three month stay in The Philippines
before coming to Madison through a Catholic Relief Services sponsorship and a sponsoring
family whom Inthachith considered to be her adoptive parents.