Born in Laos and raised in Albuquerque, restauranter Tony Chaleunphonh combined flavors of Laos with chicken wings, and the result? Soooo good!
Tony was a corporate worker for 13 years before he decided he was ready to try something new. I asked him about the name for his restaurant, ‘Happy Chickenzz.’
“I’ll say this,” I said, in between chewing on a meaty wing with the signature ‘Laos Cluckin’ Hot’ dry rub, “I’ll give you this…these wings are spicy, and delicious. But really…the name. Are the chickens happy? We’re eating them.” Then I laughed, and thought myself very clever.
While I was making a joke, Tony smiled and had a better answer. “You know when someone is scared to do something, people call that person a chicken? Well, making chicken makes me happy. Sure, I was scared to launch a new business after the safety of the corporate world, but now I’m happy, our customers love us, which makes them happy, and then I get happier. Happy Chickenzz.” (He isn’t exaggerating- check out their reviews)
Tony got started with a food truck in 2016, which he still owns and uses from time to time. “La Cumbre Brewing Co loves us,” said Tony. “They don’t have a kitchen, so they love us bringing our food truck over so their customers can have wings with their beer.”
After two years of just the food truck, Happy Chickenzz grew into its location in El Vado’s courtyard.
Being an entrepreneur myself, and still new in New Mexico and Albuquerque, I had questions for him- what were his opinions on running a business here? What about racism? Is Albuquerque an accepting place? Does he feel supported by the community as well as the business community?
“Sure, I was scared to launch a new business after the safety of the corporate world, but now I’m happy, our customers love us, which makes them happy, and then I get happier.”
I had my suspicions, and was pleased to hear Tony confirm them, as he has been here more than 30 years.
“Albuquerque is a great DIY town, where you can fail and start over….except I haven’t failed yet,” he said and started laughing. “Mayor Keller did our ribbon cutting, and as a minority business owner, I have had nothing but great experiences and no problems with racism here at all. Albuquerque welcomes everyone, and I couldn’t be happier to be here. In fact,” he nodded behind him, “my partner and I will be opening a Sushi and Tempura restaurant here in September, and we’re really excited.”
Happy Chickenzz in located in the courtyard of the historic El Vado Motel, which, as a newcomer, I was surprised to find out is a happening social spot for locals. On weekends there is live music, and along with Happy Chickenzz, there are numerous other vendors and restaurants available, and beer.
The trick is the pandemic. They have spaced out the tables, and we all practiced social distancing. When we weren’t eating or drinking, masks were on. (We took them off for the photo).
I am going back to El Vado for more wings soon- and I want to go on a Saturday when live music is playing- everything I saw there made me feel safe- all the restaurants’ staff are in masks, and even though seating is limited as a result, it felt great to be out, and…… the wings. Oh, the wings. Happy Chickenzz has got the wings- but if you happen to be in the mood for something different, they’ve got you covered. You can view their menu here.
Now I want to hear from you, New Mexico: Have you been to Happy Chickenzz? I’ve only had the Laos wings so far- what should my next flavor be?