MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. — A restaurant owner in Mount Pleasant wants to heal the traumas of war with food.
Chef Alex Hanesakda serves Southeast Asian style food out of his restaurant SapSap on 2343 Mead Street. SapSap means "delicious-delicious" in Lao. Hanesakda says the restaurant is driven by the refugee experience — he was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after the Vietnam war forced his parents to flee their home in Laos.
Hanesakda says his father fought alongside American troops during the Vietnam war.
"Seeing my dad go through the traumas of war, adapting to a new country, suffer from PTSD that was undiagnosed and he couldn't really seek help. But, he was a proud vet," Hanesakda said.
He says his family always put their heart and soul into preparing food for anyone who was hungry. Now, he says those values have inspired him to continue working to connect people through food. It's part of how PengPeng, SapSap's free meals initiative, was born.
Peng is a Lao word that means "to lovingly care for." In 2021, SapSap distributed more than $10,000 worth of food to veterans and hungry people in the Mount Pleasant community. He is especially focused on helping veterans in the community.
"To bring both worlds together just through my dad's story was really important to me," he said.
He partnered with Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin to fundraise and collect donations to help feed veterans in Racine County. Next week Hanesakda even plans on cooking a homemade meal for the vets staying at Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin.
Zachary Zdroik, the executive director of Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, said gestures like that mean everything to local veterans.
"It's good for everyone, it lift moral," Zdroik said. "For them to see first-hand how the community cares about them goes a long way for our vets."
According to Zdroik there are more than 12,000 veterans in Racine County alone.
Hanesakda hopes he can do even more to help veterans in the future through the PengPeng fund and is seeking donations via GoFundMe. You can donate by following this link.