Customers at Owensboro Karen Restaurant, 7046 Kentucky 56 in downtown Sorgho, sometimes ask Tee Moo if she is Karen.
Well, she is — and she isn’t.
It’s not her name.
But Tee Moo and her sister, Hser Wah, the restaurant’s chef, are Karen — pronounced “Kuh-REN”.
They’re part of an ethnic group from Myanmar, which they prefer to call by its original name — Burma.
On June 12, Hser Wah finally achieved her American dream of opening her own restaurant.
Long-time Daviess County residents remember the location as Red’s Place “The Fish House of the South.”
Thomas “Red” and Katherine Saltsman operated the restaurant in a former grocery store from 1964 until Red Saltsman’s death in 2005.
The family continued operating the restaurant until December 2006.
Several other restaurants have been there since.
Tee Moo said operating a new restaurant in a pandemic “is really hard.”
“We had a lot of people when we opened,” she said. “But it’s slowed. People say it’s too far from Owensboro. But it’s 10 or 15 minutes.”
Hser Wah selected the location because the rent is much cheaper than anything they could find in town, her sister said.
Tee Moo handles the dining room and her sister handles the kitchen.
They are the only employees.
The restaurant is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“On weekends, our brother and sister come out to help,” Tee Moo said.
They family left Myanmar 20 years ago to escape persecution, she said.
They spent the next decade in a refugee camp in Thailand.
And in 2010, they made their way to Owensboro.
Tee Moo was 17.
Back then, she said, “There were only three or four other Burmese families here. Today, there are nearly 1,000 Burmese.”
When her family arrived in Owensboro, she said, “I didn’t speak English. I had learned to read and write it some. But I couldn’t speak it.”
Tee Moo said she speaks Burmese, Thai and English today.
Burma has many languages, but only one culture, she said.
“English is the hardest to learn,” Tee Moo said.
She enrolled at Owensboro High School and began learning the language and the culture.
“The biggest difference, other than the language, for us was the culture and the weather,” Tee Moo said. “We had never seen snow.”
The restaurant features both Thai and Burmese cooking.
Tee Moo said curry is the most popular dish along with Pho rice and tea leaf salad.
“Most people who come here have eaten Thai,” she said. “If they haven’t, I ask what they like — noodles, rice, salad. Tea leaf salad is Burmese.”
Many of the dishes are spicy, but Hser Wah can adjust the heat level for those who prefer mild dishes.
Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301. email@example.com