By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Aug 23, 2021 at 12:01 PM

This month’s storm outages threw another gut punch into Mekong Cafe’s plans to stay in business after a year of struggles created by the pandemic.

But an outpouring of support from the community is giving the owners of the small family business, which serves Laos, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, a reason to have hope.

The café, located at 5930 W. North Ave., went without power for three days, causing all its food to spoil. The owners estimate they’ve lost $25,000 worth of food.

It’s just another blow for co-owners Sichanh Volp and her mother, Bahn Phongsavat, who turned their well-known buffet into an Asian food market while still accepting online orders for takeout and curbside customers during the pandemic.

“We were trying to recover from the pandemic, then getting hit with Mother Nature,” Volp said. “And losing our inventory was the last thing we needed.”

Overwhelmed by the thought of losing her family business, she was ready to give up, but community members Tracy Staedter and Andy Bochman stepped in to help.

Staedter, a board member for Uptown Crossing Business Improvement District 16, helped point Volp toward resources, while Bochman advised and helped her set a GoFundMe page to get donations to help keep the cafe running.

“Tracy and Andy have been awesome,” Volp said. “I’m very grateful for their helping hand. I really didn’t know where to start.”

Once the GoFundMe went up and people heard about the issue, neighbors began immediately donating and placing large orders to help offset the loss. As of 6:20 p.m. Thursday, over $18,000 had been raised.

“I didn’t realize how much of an impact we have on the community, how much the community and neighbors want to see us stay open,” Volp said. “I’m thankful for my suppliers who are patient and understanding that I can’t pay them right now.”

Volp, 36, said the business does have insurance coverage but needs a letter from We Energies that confirms the café lost power. We Energies representatives initially told her they couldn’t provide that, she said.

But Volp heard back Wednesday from the utility company, which is working to get her the letter she needs to file a claim with her insurance company to replace what was lost.

Brendan Conway, the media relations manager for We Energies, said the company has been besieged with calls related to the power outages and was circling back to check on any missteps.

“This was the largest storm restoration in our history,” Conway said. “We restored power to over 240,000 customers within 48 hours of the storm, but that is not an excuse, and we appreciate the patience.”

Volp said she understands the delay and remains hopeful everything will work out.

“At this point, our goal is to generate cash flow by doing what we do best ... cooking. Dishing out all of everyone’s favorite,” Volp said.