Kualao Restaurant Founder Honored As ASEAN Woman of Impact 2020

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Kualao Restaurant Co-Founder Honored As ASEAN Woman of Impact 2020
Kualao Restaurant Co-Founder Honored As ASEAN Woman of Impact 2020

Owner and founder of Kualao Restaurant, Mrs. Manola Daravong, has been the recipient of the prestigious 2020 Women of ASEAN Award at an Entrepreneur Summit held in the Philippines last week.

Since founding Kualao Restaurant in 1994, Manola has become synonymous with the movement that pioneered the revival of authentic Lao cuisine. A few decades ago, Lao food was originally a low-cost option reserved for locals. Manola embarked on a mission to showcase Lao food to the world by changing this perception. By retelling its story, redesigning its presentation, and reimagining its dining setting, it is no wonder why four Japanese Prime Ministers, including current premier Shinzo Abe, have visited the restaurant throughout its 25 years in operation.

“I’m very grateful to have received this award. It really belongs to my staff who have been loyal to the restaurant for so many years and have made it their second home. Because I was unable to travel to the Philippines to accept the award in person, I am thankful to the Lao ambassador to the Philippines who received the award on our behalf,” adds Manola.

Apart from supporting local food suppliers, Manola is especially proud that Kualao serves as a platform for supporting the local performing arts industry. The traditional dancers and musicians who perform at the restaurant each evening are selected from the National School of Performing Arts. These talented individuals work part-time as a way of monetizing their craft. Furthermore, the kitchen serves as a unique career pathway for disadvantaged women from rural areas of Laos. Once trained, these chefs would hold the key to local recipes that will be passed on to the next generation.

At 68, Manola still makes a daily trip to the wet market to handpick the freshest produce and catch available on that day.

Manola Daravong, at her usual morning trip to the local market, where she searches for the most appropriate ingredients for both her family and her guests. In this way, guests of Kualao are served with the same quality of food, from the same kitchen, and prepared with the same care as the owner’s family. In this sense, it’s as if guests were coming for a homecooked meal.

“To get the freshest ingredients in season, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and brave the market early in the morning,” says Manola.

Lao Ambassador to the Philippines Songkhane Luangmouninthone accepts award on Kualao's behalf
Lao Ambassador to the Philippines Songkhane Luangmouninthone accepts the award on Kualao’s behalf

“I would like to wholeheartedly congratulate Madame Manola on having been chosen for this prestigious award and on representing Lao female entrepreneurs on the ASEAN stage. Furthermore, you have set an example that will encourage other entrepreneurs in the future,” writes Lao Ambassador to the Philippines Songkane Louangmouninthone in a letter.

Here is an exclusive interview with Manola about her humble beginnings.

The WOMEN 2020 Entrepreneurship Summit, titled “Perspectives of a Global Woman of Impact,” gathered a handful of today’s most successful and pioneering female figures from various industries, such as tourism, agriculture, technology, health, and wellness. It was organized by The ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) and the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship.

The 2020 Women of ASEAN Award recognizes outstanding female entrepreneurs for demonstrating success through leadership, market positioning, and company performance. It acknowledges talented women, from their significant contributions to the economy to groundbreaking achievements in their respective industries.

Apart from Laos’ Manola Daravong, there were a total of 10 awardees, one from each ASEAN country: Hooi Ling Tan, co-founder of Grab (Malaysia), Nguyen Thi Nga, Chairman of the BRC Group (Vietnam), Mom Luang Preeyapun Sridhavat of the Chiangmai Ballet Academy (Thailand), Lok Chum Teav Mao Chamnan, COO of Wing Limited Specialised Bank (Cambodia), Kemariah Duraman (Brunei), Veronica Colondam (Indonesia), Khin Lay (Myanmar), Amb. Delia Albert (Philippines), and Dr. Gan See Khem (Singapore).

The 10 ASEAN Entrepreneur Women of Impact Awardees. Photo credit: Philstar
The 10 ASEAN Entrepreneur Women of Impact Awardees. Manola Daravong is second from the right (bottom row). Photo credit: Philstar