CASPER, Wyo. — People told Mo Hembree that she was crazy for opening a Thai restaurant in a “meat-and-potatoes” town.
At the time, Casper offered few options for ethnic cuisine beyond Chinese and Mexican. Residents who wanted something more exotic had to find it elsewhere or make it themselves.
Hembree believed there was a market in Casper for new foods. So, in 2007, she and her husband, Don, started Dsasumo, an Asian bistro that offered Thai food, curry dishes and sushi.
Customers were soon packing the business.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “Every table would be full.”
With the opening of Dsasumo and several other restaurants in the past three years, Casper has begun to shed its meat-and-potatoes reputation. Diners can now enjoy crepes, tandoori chicken and even pho without leaving the city limits.
“There are very few towns of this size that offer what we have for dining,” Hembree said. “I think Casper is very blessed.”
Dsasumo and downtown's House of Sushi were the first of the new ethnic restaurants. They were followed by Lime Leaf, which serves Vietnamese dishes, Monsoon Indian Cuisine, Lai Thai and Crepes Bazaar.
Hembree isn't surprised by the interest in new cuisines. Although her plans generated some skepticism, she found plenty of people were looking for something different.
“If Casper already had it, I didn't want to do it,” she said. “It had to be something unique.”
Selling Thai food in Casper didn't cause concern for Li-Ta Lai. When he and his wife opened Lai Thai in September, his main focus was providing an affordable, quality product.
“The food, it speaks for itself,” he said. “I don't need to worry about the food.”
Lai doesn't think there was much pent-up demand in Casper for ethnic restaurants.
Instead, the market for them grew as people discovered new dishes.
“If they see something new, they will try it,” he said.
Even with the opening of several new restaurants, Schulte thinks the city could support even more culinary variety. He'd like to see an upscale French restaurant in Casper — complete with waiters in bow ties.
“When I think about a lot of restaurants, the culinary scene here, I'd like to see more,” he said. “Bring me more foods I can't pronounce.”
Contact Joshua Wolfson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-266-0582.