Interview with small business owner Reena Duwal. Be sure to follow Tararine Thai Cuisine on Facebook and Instagram.
Why do you think it’s important to have spaces in our community where people feel like family and people feel safe, regardless of identity?
I think creating and sustaining such safe spaces is important because it is in those spaces that we come together despite our differences. In those spaces, we are the most compassionate, we have a clear mind, open and accepting, and that helps us have conversations necessary to understand our biases and overcome those. I think of a safe space as one filled with chosen family, one where we are truly looking out for each other. Those kinds of safe spaces where people can go to heal, and I think right now, the AAPI community needs that safe space to come together to mourn and to heal. And there is space for allies who want to support that healing.
Safe spaces are where we also celebrate our diverse identities. It is a space to rejoice in the goodness in each other. It’s like Jan Gehl says, “A good city is like a good party – people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves”. A safe space needs to be like that city, like a home.
How do you see your experience as a business owner and a member of the APPI community as different from business owners who are not part of the APPI community?
As an immigrant from Nepal, I have had to face many challenges to get to where I am today. When me and my team started out on this journey to open a restaurant, we didn’t have access to any resources or connections. We had to quite literally start from scratch. Plus, English is our second language, and traversing that adversity of a language barrier to navigate governmental and official forms and applications was challenging in its own way.
We also didn’t have people who could guide us back then. In terms of AAPI owned businesses, there wasn’t a large community of business owners. And sadly, I think that is still true now, though there are more AAPI owned businesses that have opened, there still isn’t enough support to sustain them. Both within the community, and from outside. I have noticed that there is very little participation in the Better Business Bureau. Personally, we’ve always had a hard time getting grants from the government, because we aren’t trained in grant writing and there are no programs that help AAPI businesses to learn this kind of skill. For the most part, we’ve had to figure things out on our own. As difficult as the work is, it is also truly rewarding. And I think that is what has sustained us and got us here through these years.
Can you tell us about how you got started in this industry?
My love of cooking for others began at home. In Nepali culture, it is a tradition to get together and eat. And this is for every single meal, whether it is a daily dinner or a big festival gathering. After moving to the US, I got inspired to share that piece of my culture. Back in Nepal, we have large gatherings in our community, we invite friends, family, neighbors, I cooked for everybody, and I loved every second of it. Cooking for others is something that is ingrained in my DNA. That is my inspiration as someone who grew up in Nepal. Then there’s Chef Eak from Thailand, who is the Head Chef at Tararine. He brings in his own passion into the food well. He’s cooked in the streets of Thailand for 20 years and has been cooking in the U.S. for 20. When I see him work in the kitchen, his passion and aura steep the food. I’ve always wanted to start my own restaurant and continue cooking for people. The idea of opening an actual Thai restaurant came to life when I met Chef Eak. And today we proudly run Tararine Thai in Fort Collins.
How would you like Fort Collins to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month?
Our hope is that Fort Collins celebrates AAPI Heritage Month by actively supporting the AAPI Community. Especially with all the hate that has raised against the AAPI community with the pandemic, there is work that needs to be done to not only heal the community, but also to support its progress, and ensure our safety.
As a business owner, I want to encourage people to support locally owned businesses like us. Get to know the people who run these places, ask us about our cultural festivals and join us in celebrating them, make better choices to support family-owned places, find out how you can dedicate resources like time, effort, and money to support the progress of the community. And I want to extend this to say that this kind of support to uplift minority communities should be extended year-round. I think the AAPI community is so strong and has always bounced back. I believe it’s in our culture, to rise from our ashes. So, I would like Fort Collins to celebrate with us, support us in our much-needed healing and progress forward.
Why do you think it’s important for our community to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month?
I think a lack of communication creates division. When minorities aren’t sharing their stories, or aren’t getting the platform to share their stories, assumptions are made about them and their cultures. But celebrations like AAPI Heritage Month presents an opportunity to share and highlight our culture, our stories, to finally be able to talk to other communities and welcome them to our beautiful and diverse traditions, food, and customs. Establishing that connection and forming relationships is how we spread love and create safe spaces and become compassionate enough to listen to each other.
I want to emphasize that understanding the importance of AAPI Heritage Month, and Black Futures Month, is that this kind of support and celebration is something that needs to extend beyond just those months. Having a month of this kind of celebration is needed, but our communities need the support every day.
What support do you need during this time that was missing? What type of support do you feel you received?
The main support that we need during this time is community support, grants, and promotions. The one thing that has kept us afloat is the Fort Collins community that keep visiting our restaurant and buying our food. We feel that with more opportunities for grants from the City, and promotional opportunities to get the word out about our new business will extremely help support our family business. As we are relatively new, a lot of people in Fort Collins don’t know us yet. So being featured in interviews like this, being highlighted in the local paper and online community bulletins, and university ads has previously been missing. But I am extremely happy that we are being interviewed for this right now!
We opened our restaurant right before the pandemic hit and the lockdowns began. It was just bad timing to have started a business. We applied for grants numerous times but didn’t receive any. We did receive some help from the city of Fort Collins. We received some PPP equipment and a small grant of $3500. Though it was not as much as we had hoped, we are still extremely grateful for it.
What is one thing you want the Fort Collins community to know about you as a business owner?
I want the Fort Collins community to come enjoy our food! We are new to this area, so I want to extend my connections and relations and get to serve as many people as possible. We cook in this kitchen every day and every night, and we do it to share our love of food, to share our different cultures, our stories, and our passions. I want them to know this is more than just a business to my family, it is a way of finding a home away from home. We have made Fort Collins our new home by sharing a piece of us and our stories through our food. Opening this restaurant has been a dream come true and it would mean the world to us if people came to see us and talk to us and try our food.