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It takes guts, determination and passion to open a new restaurant during a global pandemic. But it takes a truly special touch – and an amazing menu of Thai and Lao street food – to sell out on the first day open.
Such was the case for Sweet Basil, a brand new restaurant at 6509 S. 27th St. in Franklin, which opened its doors on Friday, April 10.
The brand new restaurant is owned by three siblings, Kenneth, Victoria and Claudia Sithy, who operate Sweet Basil with the assistance of their mother (and resident cook) Vanna Praseutsack and stepfather Lo Xayasone.
"We truly did not expect the amount of support we received from the community," says Victoria Sithy. "We thought we had enough food for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But we sold out almost everything on Friday. And yet people were so kind… it was amazing."
Third time is the charm
And it appears that the third time might just be the charm for the family, who opened two restaurants, one in South Beloit and another Janesville, Wisconsin, before landing in Franklin.
"Our first restaurant tanked because we really had no experience," says Sithy, noting that their inaugural try was a true learning experience. "But when we opened Asian Bistro, the community in Janesville was so supportive and we really built a relationship with the people in the area. Unfortunately, after operating there for five years we were unable to renew our lease. So we had to find a new location."
They purposefully looked for a location on the South Side of Milwaukee.
"My mother grew up there," she says. And we all had fond memories of the area, from getting custard at Leon’s, to eating at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant down the street. So, as we were looking for a new place to open, finding a spot on 27th Street was the ultimate goal."
"At Asian Bistro, our menu was focused on authentic, classic Thai food," says Sithy. "But when we moved, we had a family discussion about what we wanted to do, and we all agreed that it would be amazing to do something different. For my mother, that meant serving food that you found in the street markets of Thailand and Laos."
From there, Sweet Basil concept was born.
Time to feast
They signed a lease on the 1400 square foot space in September of 2019, and began working on it in December, envisioning it would be a small fast casual style restaurant offering carry-out and a small dining area. With support from the City of Franklin, they moved forward.
But, months later, as they ventured closer to opening, the world was shaken by the news of COVID-19, and their plans to open to the public changed quickly.
"We need to adapt and we need to adapt quickly," says Sithy, who says the family sat down and had a meeting to discuss next steps. "It was tough; but ultimately, we decided that we didn’t have anything to lose."
So, after a brief soft opening for friends, family and neighbors, Sweet Basil opened their doors, inviting the world to take a chance on their menu of casual Lao and Thai specialties.
"My mother, who moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 13, created most of the menu," she says. "But my brother, sister and I also contributed some fusion ideas...things that we grew up eating, and that we really loved."
Among those dishes are Buffalo chicken rangoons ($6 for six), a tasty riff on the already non-traditional crab rangoon filled with Buffalo chicken, cream cheese, shredded cheese and green onions.
There's also jeow bong fried rice, house fried rice enhanced with the kick of citrus and traditional Laotian chili paste featuring ingredients like sundried chilies, galangal, garlic and fish sauce (priced $8-13, depending on the choice of protein).
You'll also find other Lao favorites from beef jerky ($7) to lemongrass-tinged Lao sausage ($8) and flavorful laab ($9), along with panang and green curries ($9-14), numerous noodle dishes and soups like Lao style pho and ramen ($12) and mee ka tee with its spicy fragrant broth, rice noodles, ground pork, pork belly, eggs, cabbage, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro and carrots ($12).
So far, Sithy says favorite dishes include pad thai and the restaurant’s family-style platters, which offer customers the ability to delve into a variety of dishes that are meant to be eaten out of hand (with a side of Lao sticky rice, of course!).
"When we go to restaurants together, we always order like eight different dishes to share," Sithy says. "So, if you’re like us, and you like to try a little bit of everything, a platter is totally the way to go."
Pictured above: Platter with chicken wings, Lao-style grilled steak, Lao sausage, papaya salad salad and sticky rice ($30). [View the full menu online]
And if you’re curious about the heat levels in various dishes, Sithy says dishes can be ordered as mild or spicy as you’d like, based on a 1 to 5 scale.
"Most people will choose a 2 or 3 for a bit of kick," she says, noting that – unlike others in her family – she doesn’t prefer super spicy dishes. "Our 5 is spicy, and you’ll sweat a bit, but it’s still manageable hot."
"We’re so excited to showcase something really different from most Thai and Lao restaurants," says Sithy. "These are the foods that my mother grew up eating and cooking, as well as our own little remixes."
Sithy says the menu at Sweet Basil will change seasonally.
"We have some really amazing things in the works," she says. "Including some really inventive fusion dishes that we can’t wait for people to try."
The opening hours at Sweet Basil are currently Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (but subject to change). Both curbside pick-up and no-contact delivery are available. Watch for updates on their website, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.