Tag Archives: Thailand

Sisterly Grub

July 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sisters Cafe is your typical small-town eatery—with a delightful globe-trotting twist.

Sisters2As diners approach the restaurant on historic downtown Plattsmouth’s Main Street, they’re greeted with whimsical signage featuring a pair of flitting butterflies, one decorated like the national flag of Thailand and the other mimicking the German flag.       

Inside, sisters Jit Kunkel and Noopin Hammerich flutter about, seamlessly combining the cuisine of Thailand and Deutschland on one diverse, delectable menu. Sisters does not create Thai-German fusion, rather, the restaurant offers Thai and German dishes side by side—just as the sisterly duo stands together in the kitchen.     

“The Thai side evolves from Jit’s background and experience owning Jit’s Thai Cafe in Omaha,” says Greg Kunkel, Jit’s husband and a third owner alongside the sisters. “Noopin brings the German component from her training and work experience in Hamburg, Germany—so the combination is natural for us.”

Sisters3The sisters grew up in Northeast Thailand before Jit immigrated to the U.S. and Noopin immigrated to Germany. After 40 years, during which time Noopin attended culinary school and worked in catering, she joined Jit stateside to launch their joint endeavor.

Jit creates amazing housemade Thai sauces, perfecting the flavors of their homeland, while Noopin oversees the German side. Noopin also contributes the standout baked goods, including homemade bread and desserts: apple strudel, special cakes, and tortes. Sisters’ homegrown vibe is partially provided by fresh organic vegetables and herbs that come from the garden at Greg and Jit’s Bellevue home. Greg’s part in this venture is tending
that garden.

Between my German last name and a pronounced penchant for pad thai, I felt completely in my element at Sisters. However, neither characteristic is necessary to appreciate Sisters’ emphasis on freshness and friendly service. From wienerschnitzel and sauerbraten to panang curry and drunken noodles, Sisters’ commitment to authenticity and homemade provisions makes this place special.   

Sisters4On a recent visit, the pad thai was, predictably, a favorite. Sisters’ solid version of the classic dish boasts a homemade sauce so well-balanced between sour, salty, spicy, and sweet that Buddha himself would be pleased. The dish achieved a harmonious texture through expertly cooked rice noodles and egg mingled with garden-fresh green onion and bean sprouts, a crushed-peanut finish, shredded carrot, and a juicy lime wedge. We opted for chicken, but the dish is also available with beef, pork, tofu, or langostino.       

Sisters’ take on the German classic rinderrouladen presented a tender beef filet stuffed with bacon, pickle, and onion, then topped with a rich, savory gravy. Soft, eggy spaetzle with a crisp exterior and pickled red cabbage, sweet with apple flavor, accompanied the dish. German dishes are served with a small salad and Noopin’s noticeably homemade bread.   

The cafe’s ambiance is cozy and unassuming, with a front door beset by two large windows that allow a pleasant supply of natural light. A small front patio provides a nice perch from which to experience quaint, downtown Plattsmouth while dining. Sisters offers beer and wine alongside Thai tea to quench
your thirst.

Sisters bustles with business and is clearly popular with local regulars, but Omahans and those from other nearby communities will find it worthwhile to make the short trip to Plattsmouth, and, from there, be transported to far-off Thailand and Germany. 

Visit sisterscafe.biz for more information.

Sisters1

Family Success Story: 
The Ner Clay & Paw Tha Family

November 4, 2013 by

Ner Clay and Paw Tha are a humble couple with a story that is hard for most of us to imagine. They have lived three different lives—the first in Burma, their homeland; the second in the refugee camps of Thailand; and now their third in Omaha.

Burma—now called Myanmar by military rule, but forever known as Burma to its refugees—lies south of China on the Bay of Bengal. Home to a number of ethnic groups, the Karen (kuh-REHN) people make up about one third of the country’s population. The Karen are quiet, respectful, and industrious. Family life is extremely important. Marriages are strong and function as a partnership of equals. The parenting style is firm but loving, and children of every age are respectful and obedient. Traditionally, Karen do not have family names; each person is seen as an individual.

The Karen suffered political and religious oppression in their homeland for many decades. But it became much worse in the 1970s and ’80s when a violent new military régime took over the government. A systematic genocide began, driving the Karen people into the forest while government soldiers burned their villages. The only way to stay alive was to flee to refugee camps in neighboring Thailand, where the families of Ner Clay and Paw Tha found safety.

20130903_bs_9985

You might think of a refugee camp as offering temporary quarters. But history tells us the average stay for people in refugee camps worldwide is 15 years. Paw Tha lived 11 years in the camps. Ner Clay spent 30 years there.

“Life in the refugee camps was difficult,” says Ner Clay. “We were safe inside the fences, but we could hear enemy gunfire in the hills. People were crowded and lived in poor conditions. Monsoons washed away the dirt walls of our shelters, and we had to rebuild them after the rainy season. People could not leave the camp borders, and there was no way to earn a decent wage to a better life. When the fighting grew closer, the entire camp—thousands of people—had to move farther into Thailand.”

Faith and education are important values of the Karen culture, so churches and schools were organized. Ner Clay learned to speak English as a boy. As an adult, he served as a minister and helped charities organize services to the residents of the camp. Paw Tha arrived as a teenager who had already studied languages, history, and science. She taught English to first graders. Eventually, the couple found each other and were married. All three daughters—Victoria, now age 12, Gloria, 10, and Julia, 7—were born in the camp.

In 2008, Ner Clay and Paw Tha and their daughters were granted visas to travel to the United States. They were first placed in St. Paul, Minn., where they lived for three months. The couple’s English language skills positioned them in high demand. Then Ner Clay was asked to move his family to Omaha, where there was a need for a religious and cultural leader among the new Karen arrivals.

Ner Clay and Paw Tha moved their family into an apartment complex in North Omaha, and the Karen families followed. Day after day, they labored to settle their own family and jobs while helping dozens of new refugee families translate their mail, make appointments, drive for errands, and function in an all-English world.

Ner Clay became associate pastor of the Karen Christian Revival Church with a growing parish of more than 400 families. In addition to spiritual support and recreational activities, the church became a resource center for the community, offering resettlement assistance, clothing and household items, job-seeking advice, and educational programs that help the families adjust to life in Omaha.

20130903_bs_9974

Paw Tha is now an interpreter at Franklin Elementary School, and their daughters attend Springville Elementary School, both of which are in the Omaha Public Schools district. In a comfortable home in northwest Omaha, they continue to provide assistance to established and new refugees—explaining insurance policies, legal documents, housing requirements, and notes from the children’s schools. They feel very lucky to be in a position to help others succeed, and often repeat their own personal slogan: “We are blessed to be a blessing.”

Still, Paw Tha is concerned about some of the darker aspects of American culture. “In the camps, there is nothing to do, so there are many eyes on the children. Here, the children have so much more freedom and are exposed to many temptations,” she says. “I worry that they will lose respect for the ways of our culture.”

“Except for a few setbacks, things have turned out pretty much the way we hoped,” Ner Clay says. “Our people are finding success. They have bought more than 300 homes and have started new businesses—grocery stores, restaurants, clothing shops, and auto repair. We came here for freedom and citizenship, and we want to contribute to this great country. Anything is possible in America!”

This September, Ner Clay and Paw Tha became U.S. citizens, which granted automatic citizenship to their daughters. The couple agrees: “We hope our daughters will grab whatever opportunity they get in America.”

Q&A: Jason Decker

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Elite Landscaping

As a kid, Omahan Jason Decker was known as the neighborhood yard boy. Today, as owner of Elite Landscaping, he still spends most of his days working outdoors, creating and installing beautiful landscapes and outdoor entertaining spaces for homeowners. “I can’t picture myself doing anything other than this.”

Q: When did you first discover your love for working in the outdoors? How did you get your start in landscaping?

A: Growing up in Armbrust Acres, I mowed 15 yards a week all through grade school and made good money for a young kid. At 15, I started working for a local lawn and landscape contractor. While I worked for my old boss, I read many books on landscaping and learned trial by fire. My parents were always my guinea pigs. They were my first pond, patio, landscape design, fire pit, lighting job, etc. School was never my thing. I just loved being outside, the hard work, seeing the fruits of my labor, and interacting with people.7_BackyardFirepit_Web

Q: What education and training do you have in landscape design? Who were your mentors?

A: I graduated from Millard North High School in 2001 and then attended Metro Community College for one-and-a-half years, taking classes in advanced landscape design and plant knowledge. For the most part, I am self-taught. My mentors were definitely my father, Bob, and mother, Rose, who instilled in me great ethics and morals and taught me at a young age that hard work pays off. My mom continues to support me in my business as the company’s office manager.

IMG_8582_DxO_Web

Q: What kind of projects does Elite Landscaping take on? Who are your customers?

A: Our main area of work is in outdoor patio and pool projects. We are the main installer for Lumbermen’s high-end clients, and Bell Pools and New Wave Pools are great companies we work well with, referring business to each other. I do all my own landscape project work—meeting with each client, designing and bidding each job, then watching over the job site through completion. We only do around 15-20 projects a summer, and we continually keep in touch with clients, keeping their properties in peak shape with maintenance annuals, potting, and service work, etc. My customers are generally very hard-working professionals—small business owners, doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, executives for local businesses. They love their homes and yards and want them to be one-of-a-kind retreats where they can spend time relaxing and getting away from the rigors of work and enjoying family time. Ninety percent of my work is referral-based, while a few jobs are generated by my website and my exhibit at the Omaha Home Show.IMG_8731_DxO_Web

Q: What part of landscaping do you enjoy the most? What inspires your designs?

A: The most creative and enjoyable part is the design process—I’ve come up with some very unique and challenging designs, and I have a great team of guys who are very skilled and able to execute our designs well. Traveling is what inspires me! I travel about every six weeks, and at least once a year out of the country—Rio de Janeiro, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Miami, Las Vegas…It gives me something to look forward to, and it refreshes the mind and body.

IMG_8548_DxO_Web

Q: How do you enjoy your spare time?

Spending it with my girlfriend, Christie. She is the first woman who’s ever been able to get me away from work in the summer, our busiest time of year. We enjoy going to movies, sitting on the outdoor patio with friends for drinks, and dining out at Pitch Pizzeria, J’s on Jackson, M’s Pub, Roja, among others. We also like going downtown, and the Benson area is always fun. I also like to golf or just hang out with my bulldog, Diesel, and watch sporting events.

For a photo gallery of past projects or more info on Elite Landscaping, visit elitelandscapingomaha.com.

Ekapon Tanthana

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When worldly local photographer Ekapon Tanthana isn’t at a glamorous photo shoot or rubbing elbows with the fashion elite, he drills teeth. Mild-mannered dentist by day. Fashion photographer by night.

There is a method to his madness. Meticulous about his craft, he plans every detail of each shoot, carefully sketching out the images he wants to capture. His work has a signature look. It is, at times, dramatic with flights of whimsy. Always tongue-in-cheek, he likes to push boundaries. With everything from nude models to bondage themes, it becomes clear after seeing his work that he is not your typical photographer. He’s an artist.b

Tanthana did fashion photography for the first Omaha Fashion Show in 2006, which won him the Omaha Visual Arts Award. He has worked in L.A. and New York but prefers Omaha. He is enamored with the Old Market and marvels at the explosion of creative energy on the local scene in recent years. He’s excited to be in the thick of it: creative people coming together to create art for art’s sake.

“Great thing about Omaha is everyone’s friendly in the community and helps each other out,” Tanthana says. He has befriended all the local photographers in town. They help each other out by sharing equipment and contacts.ekaponfinal

He chooses his work with great care and has to really be inspired by a project to pursue it. His eyes light up as he describes bringing his vision to light, that aha! moment when a vision is captured. “There’s that moment when everyone in the room just feels it,” he says. “I want my work to look like a still from a movie, to tell a story.”

Locally, Tanthana has shown his work at the Professional Darkroom Gallery, Jackson Street Artworks, and Nomad. He’s also had his art featured in local magazines, publications in his native Thailand, as well as Omaha Fashion Week. He’s even been invited to be a guest speaker on his art at Creighton University and BW Thai.

Tanthana first discovered his passion for film at age 12, while attending boarding school in England. He has gone on to do artistic and fashion photography, most of which was shot locally on a shoestring budget. He worked with supermodel Samantha Gradoville at a shoot at the former French Café in the Old Market. He works with Rhodora, a local makeup artist who trained with Chanel and is a guest makeup artist for the brand. He has also worked with Payton Holbrook, a local hair stylist who has since moved to New York and does editorials and New York Fashion Week hair.F

Tanthana says that juggling full-time dentistry with his numerous creative projects takes planning but is well worth the effort. Seeing his vision come to life is gratifying.

“I think of these images. They just come to me. Then I have to capture them,” he explains. “To me, being a success is someone being influenced by you, as you have been influenced by others.”

He says he couldn’t do photography full-time because he is so particular about his work. True to his art, he is ruled by inspiration—not always an option for a working photographer. He also adds that it can take time to fully dream up the visual designs he later creates.Elisafly

Like his photography, Tanthana takes pride in his dental work. He shows off pictures of some of his patient transformations. One photo titled Meth Mouth is the before picture of a patient’s rotting teeth. The after picture is a stunning Hollywood smile. Beyond creating a beautiful, healthy smile for patients, Tanthana is touched by making a real difference in someone’s life.

Whether planning a shoot or crafting a smile, Tanthana leaves his distinct trademark of perfection.