For five years, Dussadee Oeawpanich has operated a popular eatery in Khao Lak, located on the Andaman Coast of Thailand-nearly 10,000 miles from the Louisiana Restaurant Association headquarters. Until Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, she called New Orleans home and found comfort in the similarities between her hometown of Khao Lak and those of the Crescent City.
She returned to Khao Lak and found the local restaurant scene sparse with options and that inspired her to open her own place--Fizz Bistro n Bar. Now, she has one of the most popular eateries along the coast, serving what Oeawpanich refers to as “contemporary Thai cuisine influenced by my world travels and my time in the United States and Louisiana.”
Fizz Bistro n Bar is a small restaurant with 48 seats and just five employees. Oeawpanich serves as owner and manager and sometimes chef and bartender when duty calls. With limited staffing options, she’s found that her ability to pinch hit when the place fills isn’t as daunting as she once believed.
“I love visiting with my patrons and serving cuisine that I hold close to my heart,” said Oeawpanich. “Running a restaurant in Thailand is stressful but at the end of each night, we are just blissful having made them smile as they often reminisce about their travels, home cooked meals and desire to be adventurous in their selections.”
But running Fizz Bistro n Bar in its location presents a host of other challenges. For one, the most stressful is the constant reminder that she and her staff may have to close up shop at a moment’s notice and head for higher ground.
In 2004, when visiting her family in December, she was forced to evacuate when a Tsunami came ashore. Khao Lak was one the coastal areas of Thailand hit the hardest by the tsunami resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. While the final death toll was more than 4,000, local unofficial estimates are believed to be closer to 10,000.
“The area was destroyed and during the years since, the community has rebounded,” said Oeawpanich. “The experience of evacuating for the 2004 tsunami really prepared me for Hurricane Katrina’s evacuation and now, I feel I’m resilient enough to come back, rebuild and move on.”
Just like most of us in South Louisiana, she thought she’d have to leave for a few days and then be able to go back. That wasn’t the case in Khao Lak, nor was it the case following Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in her losing everything she had built during her time living in New Orleans. She remembers packing a few changes of cloths, food and water for two days and grabbing her passport.
“Unfortunately insuring my business in Khao Lak is not an option for me,” said Oeawpanich. “If you can find someone to insure you, it’s so cost prohibitive, it’s just not worth it.”
Before the tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina, she didn’t give much thought to hurricane preparedness. Now however, she realizes the extent of the damage and destruction major natural disasters can cause.
“Now, I’m highly organized and encourage my staff to have their game plans in order, a bag packed with their most cherished belongings,” she said. “I’ve lost everything and many of them have too, but as time passes, the memories of that loss fades and becomes a distant memory. She recognizes the enormous risk she has running Fizz, but it’s one she feels prepared for and her love of her hometown and her business trumps the risk in her opinion.
Do you have an emergency plan in event of a Hurricane? Where will you go? Where will your staff go? How will stay in contact with them? What’s your plan for securing your restaurant?