Moe Naing Israel and Mi Latt Thenda moved to the Lansing area in June 2013 and opened Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant in November of the same year. What started as a family dream has become a favorite of many local diners, who have fallen in love with the food that this family has been serving to the community.
“This is my wife’s dream to own our own business,” said Israel.
While their dream has come true, this summer, they plan on finally cashing in their hard work for a vacation.
“We are going back to Burma,” said Israel, noting that they haven’t been back to see their family in 29 years.
Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant will be closed from June 17 to Sept. 5, a long time to go without some of the area’s best Thai, Malaysian, and Burmese food. But the couple promises to come back.
“We will reopen in September, yes,” said Israel. A big part of the restaurant’s success is its authentic food, including traditional dishes from Malaysia (Maggi soup and vegetarian fried egg noodles), Burma (tea pickled leaves with beans salad or fried water cress) and Thailand (Thai tom yum soup or Thai ladna). The large menu that Naing Myanmar boasts is surprising considering the space that the couple works in. The kitchen and restaurant space fit in a small strip mall storefront on Lansing’s south side. And while there is a dining room, many people choose to order takeout. As a result, Naing Myanmar often has a one and a half to two hour wait on the weekends.
“Here, we make food, and it’s all fresh, no reheated food,” Israel said, explaining why the food can sometimes take a bit longer than other takeout joints.
“When you order, we cook,” he added.
“That’s why people wait. Some people they play cards and sit down. They know. I say ‘I’m sorry’ and people say ‘That’s no problem.’” Aside from the food that Naing Myanmar delivers, the customer service is a little different than your traditional restaurant. The “Family Restaurant” in the name is not a gimmick. Israel and Thenda have two sons, ages 12 and 3. When dining in, you may see their youngest in the corner playing with toys or their oldest helping his father serving customers. While Israel said it might bother some customers, it’s the way it has to be for this hard working couple.
“Some don’t like it that my kids are here,” Israel said. “I say if you don’t like it, you don’t come. I have no choice. We try our best. We don’t have any relatives here.”
The couple explained that owning their own restaurant is their dream career, but it’s also a way for their family to be able to see more of each other and work together.
“When I was in Boston, I worked a long time (at a coffee shop),” Israel said. “I would close and come home, and by then they’re all sleeping. I would wake up, and my son is going to school. I never saw them awake. This, with our own business, we can all work together.”
Taking their sons to see their extended families for the first time is something we as a community can be happy about, no matter how selfishly we want that delicious food to be available this summer.
As for the future of Naing Myanmar, Israel said he has plans to expand the kitchen area where his wife primarily works.
“When I get back from vacation, I want to make a bigger kitchen and a smaller dining room,” he said.
The couple considered a move two years ago, when a dispute between the landlord and the Lansing Board of Water & Light left the restaurant without running water for nearly a month. Israel said that he is interested in securing one of the lots on either side of the restaurant’s current location, 3308 S. Cedar St. Suite 3, for further growth. But he wants to be careful and grow his business responsibly.
“I want to take the side spot in the future, just not right now,” he said. “We want to give people a full stomach for not much money; that’s our goal. Food for everyone, not just the rich people. We want everyone to come.”