MARSHALL -When he arrived in the United States, Joe Ektanitphong had only $38 in his pocket.
After 30 years of working in the food service business, he and his wife Sara have moved the Hunan Lion to its new location at the former First National Bank building, officially opening this past Wednesday.
"I give everything back to the community; I feel proud to be part of the community," Ektanitphong said.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Joe and Sara Ektanitphong are realizing the fruits of their labor as they reopened the Hunan Lion last week in the former First National Bank building in downtown Marshall
The Ektanitphongs decided to combine both the history of the building with their own cultural history. They kept the early parts of the building, which includes the crown molding and the corbels, along with the fireplace. Then they brought in several symbols of Chinese and Thai culture, such as a dragon sculpture at the entrance of the restaurant, goldfish, the tiger and a Buddha.
Ektanitphong said they've been working on the new Hunan project for the last two years. They had owned the building for almost nine years, but it took a few years to get financing for the remodel. He is grateful for the help of Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes, retired city building official Dale Howe and Prairieland EDC.
"He worked with me from day one," Ektanitphong said about Howe.
Once the KFC restaurant was up and running, Ektanitphong said he started working on the new Hunan right away.
"It takes a long time," Ektanitphong said.
But he knew what he wanted to do with the old bank building. Ektanitphong said when he saw the building, his imagination helped figure out how to do the interior design.
"I knew where everything as going to be," Ektanitphong said. "I bring everything here, the whole nation here."
For the front window design, Ektanitphong said he based on a similar one he saw at a water park in Minneapolis.
A friend from Thailand created the letters for the restaurant's name that hangs outside the building, Ektanitphong said. A tall vase with a peacock on it stands in one of the front windows, which is a "lucky" bird, he said. A large Rosso Pakistano Onyx hangs in the dining room.
"Every detail, every corner, just lots of thinking," Ektanitphong said.
The natural stone dragon at the entrance is a Pi Xui, which is the ninth son of the Heavenly Dragon and considered the devoted guardian of homes of the Chinese emperor and high officials.
"It's a good luck sign," said Vit Rojawat, a server at the restaurant.
The new restaurant also has a larger kitchen, a grill, a beer and wine bar, a place for to-go orders and a roomier dining area.
"It's bigger and it's comfortable," Ektanitphong said about the kitchen. "It's healthier to the workers."
Rojawat said everything is "double-sized" in the kitchen. Plus, there will be some changes to the menu, he added.
"In the future, we're going to create a new menu," Rojawat said, adding that new items will be put on the menu every so often.
Ektanitphong said Thai food will be on the menu, and maybe steak and burgers down the road.
There is also a case by the cash register that will feature different desserts every day, Rojawat said.
"I've been learning," Rojawat said.
Ektanitphong said it's been tough to get the new restaurant up and running, but it's worth the effort.
"This is really a hard job," Ektanitphong said. "It took me nine years to build this one. Now today, I celebrate. This opportunity, you have to finish it."