Interview with Nikky Phinyawatana, May 9, 2022

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Nikky Phinyawatana, May 9, 2022

Subject

Asian Americans
Texas--History
Cooking, American
Cooking, Thai

Date

2022-05-09

Format

audio

Identifier

2021oh002_di_012

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Betsy Brody

Interviewee

Nikky Phinyawatana

OHMS Object Text

5.4 Interview with Nikky Phinyawatana, May 9, 2022 2021oh002_di_012 01:43:36 ohdi Digging In di001 How Food, Culture, and Class Shaped Asian Dallas Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans This project is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship. Asian Americans Texas--History Cooking, American Cooking, Thai Nikky Phinyawatana Betsy Brody m4a oh_audio_dig_phinyawatana_nikky_20220509.m4a 1:|15(1)|31(5)|41(11)|54(5)|65(2)|76(1)|84(14)|94(4)|107(14)|120(8)|131(12)|142(4)|154(15)|167(12)|181(2)|193(1)|202(10)|219(9)|230(2)|241(12)|251(12)|263(1)|274(13)|289(13)|307(5)|320(3)|331(15)|342(13)|353(4)|364(2)|374(5)|385(12)|397(6)|412(6)|428(3)|438(14)|450(12)|463(8)|475(16)|489(3)|497(8)|511(1)|525(12)|539(3)|551(8)|568(1)|577(7)|588(12)|601(14)|614(10)|624(12)|635(8)|646(8)|661(8)|674(2)|685(15)|697(1)|710(7)|723(13)|735(1)|746(12)|760(11)|771(2)|784(5)|795(1)|806(10)|819(9)|829(1)|839(6)|853(11)|870(5)|883(11)|893(11)|902(14)|914(7)|924(10)|933(4)|945(3)|959(4)|971(15)|983(8)|996(4)|1008(5)|1022(9)|1034(1)|1047(9)|1060(3)|1072(13)|1088(10)|1097(12)|1109(6)|1120(9)|1133(2)|1145(12)|1159(8)|1173(6)|1187(6)|1202(10)|1212(10)|1224(2)|1234(15)|1247(6)|1258(6) 0 https://betsybrody.aviaryplatform.com/embed/media/163084 Aviary audio 4 Introduction Asian Americans ; Cooking, American ; Cooking, Thai ; Texas--History 34 Returning to Dallas from Bangkok to attend The Hockaday School/ Childhood interest in cooking Asian food ; baking ; Bangkok ; Chinatown ; cooking ; Dallas ; dim sum ; English ; food ; fruits ; Hockaday ; language ; markets ; noodles ; pho ; Plano ; Thai flavors ; Thailand 836 Studying Entrepreneur Studies at Babson College in Boston Babson College ; Boston ; Chinatown ; Chow Thai ; Dalla ; entrepreneur ; food ; Korea House ; Royal Thai ; Thai restaurants 1055 Returning to Dallas after 9/11 and joining family food delivery business 9/11 ; American Airlines ; business ; Chili's ; culinary school ; Dallas ; Dalls College ; entrepreneur ; food ; Food Network ; karaoke ; Thai Spice 1457 Attending culinary school at Dallas College chef ; cleanliness ; corporate ; culinary school ; Dallas College ; food ; front of the house ; safety ; sanitation 1558 Designing and opening Asian Mint alcohol ; Asian food ; Asian Mint ; bakery ; business ; Chili's ; comfort food ; cooking ; Dalla Morning News ; dessert ; egg roll ; fried rice ; fusion ; green ; Guide ; hospitality ; kung pao chicken ; logo ; marketing ; menu ; mongolian beef ; newspapers ; orange chicken ; P.F. Changs ; Pad See Ew ; Pad Thai ; palate ; Pei Wei ; summer rolls ; tamarind ; Thai food ; Thai restaurants ; western palate ; wine 32.92089644796654, -96.7718086441328 17 2094 Identifying as a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurant Asian restaurant ; Brinker ; Chinatown ; consistency ; customers ; Dallas ; expansion ; flavors ; growth ; High Five ; Jewish ; logo ; marketing ; mom and pop ; neighborhood ; regulars ; Richardson ; Southern Methodist University ; Texas Instruments ; training 2508 Philosophy of hospitality culture ; food ; hospitality ; Jewish ; Thailand 2579 Choosing locations for Asian Mint restaurants business ; Dallas ; entrepreneur ; expansion ; growth ; Highland Park ; landlord ; location ; market research ; restaurant ; restaurants ; sushi ; Thai food ; Thai restaurants 3179 Building a team, systems, and processes for Asian Mint business ; entrepreneur ; expand ; expansion ; growth ; mom and pop ; regulars ; training 3681 Expanding Asian Mint to five locations Addison ; Asian Mint ; community ; cooking class ; COVID ; educate ; education ; expand ; expansion ; growth ; motherhood ; platform ; social media ; teaching 4276 Personal mission and platform brand ; chef ; educate ; education ; entrepreneur ; internet ; platform ; supermarket ; travel ; YouTube 4717 Reflections on &quot ; authenticity&quot ; and food Asian food ; authentic ; authenticity ; Bangkok ; barbecue ; bridge ; connections ; culture ; family ; food ; Pad Thai ; Thai flavors ; Thai food 4984 Leading culinary retreats to Asia Asia ; business ; culture ; educate ; education ; food ; hospitality ; regulars ; Thailand ; travel 5314 Impact of COVID, tornado, and ice storm Amazn ; community ; cooking class ; cooking kit ; COVID ; curbside ; Dallas ; ice storm ; labor ; pivot ; sauce ; tornado ; wok 5807 Asian Mint as a green restaurant business ; conscious capitalism ; green ; sustainability ; sustainable ; value 5943 Changes in the palate of the Dallas diner Asian community ; Asian flavors ; barbecue ; comfort food ; cultural ; culture ; customers ; Dallas ; education ; food ; fusion ; palate ; spicy ; Thai flavors ; western palate |00:00:04| Brody This is Betsy Brody. Today is May 9th, 2022. I am interviewing for the first time Miss Nikky Phinyawatana. This interview is taking place in my home office in Richardson, Texas. This interview is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship and is part of the project entitled &quot ; Digging I:n How Food, Culture, and Class Shaped the Story of Asian Dallas.&quot ; Thank you, Nikky, for joining me today. Let&#039 ; s just start out with an easy question. Where and when were you born? |00:00:39| Phinyawatana I was born here in the Dallas, Texas area, and that was in 1977. December 15th. Actually. |00:00:51| Brody What brought your family to Texas? |00:00:53| Phinyawatana My family on my mom&#039 ; s side is from the Plano area. And that&#039 ; s where my parents met in Dallas. So half of my family lineage is from this area. |00:01:09| Brody Interesting. Where&#039 ; s the other half from? |00:01:11| Phinyawatana The other half is from Bangkok,Thailand. |00:01:14| Brody How did your parents meet? |00:01:15| Phinyawatana They met here in Dallas while my dad was going to SMU. Undergrad. And my mom was working with my aunt in law during that same time. |00:01:33| Brody Awesome. So you were born in Dallas and did you go to school here? |00:01:39| Phinyawatana I went to school in Thailand, actually. So, after I was born about when I was around one, my family moved to Thailand to go back and work in the family business. My grandfather on my dad&#039 ; s side had his own business, starting off in like the car air conditioner, like one of the first guys to put air conditioner in cars in Thailand and then started moving into a lot of electronics, whether it be phones, surround sound systems. And they had asked my dad to go back to help out with the family business. So I grew up in Thailand. Thai is really my first language. English is my second. And I lived there for over 16 years before my mom sent me over or shipped me back to Dallas to go to a boarding school here, which is an all girls school called Hockaday for my high school experience, part of my life as a full time boarder. So I was there 24/7 and that was from 10th, 11th and 12th grade. In 1993 through 1996. |00:02:58| Brody That&#039 ; s really interesting. So what a unique experience to come back to the place that you were born as an international student, essentially. Do you have any memories from that time that were notable? |00:03:11| Phinyawatana Yes. Favorite, favorite times, definitely. So my mom was really smart because she, I guess, gave me a bet. You know, as a teenager in Thailand, she sent me to...I went full on in a Thai school, and then she moved me to an international school, realizing that I was not getting a lot of my education in English. So after she sent me to international school, I was still speaking Thai with my friends. And it was still not fully immersive as she was hoping and expecting. And doing that, I guess I was in eighth grade or ninth grade. She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; As long...hey, Nikky, I won&#039 ; t... Let&#039 ; s do a bet.&quot ; That&#039 ; s what she said. &quot ; If you can just speak Thai. I&#039 ; m sorry. If you could just speak English while we&#039 ; re at home for a year. I won&#039 ; t send you to school in America so that you can really pick it up. The reading, writing. speaking, all of the above.&quot ; And, of course, as a teenager, it is hard to do something like that, you know, to follow your parents&#039 ; rules and whatnot. So I basically lost the bet. But she was really smart in that she had sent me over for summer school and I had a blast. It was so much fun. We boarded in the boarding department at the school, and there&#039 ; s only one school here in the Dallas area with a boarding department. And every weekend they would take us to somewhere fun whether it would be Six Flags, the waterparks, the Galleria mall. But there was just activities and activities and activities. And everyone in that school was super supportive and fun and loving. And I said, &quot ; I would love to come back and go to school here.&quot ; So I went back, finished my school in Thailand, and I think I was like a year ahead in terms of like my age for the grade that I was in and they bumped me up a grade. So I came here at Hockaday as an ESL student or &quot ; English as a Second Language&quot ; student, and at the same time I was taking some regular ninth grade classes or tenth grade classes, tenth grade classes. And during that time, I was boarding. And, you know, there are options, whether it be where you would want to be sent to a boarding school here in the States. The East Coast are full of them. But she wanted to send me to Dallas because she knew that at least she would have her sister or my aunt to, you know, have an eye over me or be able to jump at a moment&#039 ; s notice or take me to out every now and then and just be close also, with her mom. So that&#039 ; s why she really wanted me to come to Dallas and during that time at Hockaday, I would have to say I missed my food, my Thai flavors, so much. So I was one of the maybe four Thai students at the time. We had students from all over the world. I remember a lot of Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, us Thais. Don&#039 ; t remember any Vietnamese for some reason. But, a lot of them from Mexico and....I&#039 ; m trying to think if there&#039 ; s anyone from Europe, but also from small towns around Dallas that wanted their daughter to have a different kind of education, I guess, and had sent them over, whether they&#039 ; re from Paris, Texas or Longview and just all these other cities around. But what I was realizing that I was doing is every time I was coming back from Thailand, I would have a suitcase full of instant noodles, Mama Tom Yum, you know, or my clear noodles, some flavor packs. And I would be cooking up things that I grew up loving and all the flavors that were missing, whether it be you know, Thai Chili Pepper, snacks. I&#039 ; m just...Wow. Just thinking about it is making me salivate. And all of these just yummy flavors I was cooking them in the dorm&#039 ; s kitchen and I would share it with my friends. They also fell in love and started saying, &quot ; Hey, bring an extra case of ramen noodles&quot ; because they were spicy and sour and all these flavor profiles that we all miss, very similarities into Mexican flavor profiles and....Food is what I really revolved around. I remember missing even now today, you know, I remember the weekends we would always have these amazing donuts that I didn&#039 ; t grow up with or bagels that I didn&#039 ; t grow up with. And all my other friends are from all these other countries. They would request the ride to take us to Chinatown and I would get to go eat in like the Taiwanese cafe and learn about Taiwanese cuisine that I wasn&#039 ; t, that I didn&#039 ; t grow up with. I grew up with more Hong Kong style Chinese food. Pho places- fell in love with pho places here in the Dallas area. And we would have a busload of like fifteen girls from all around just going out for pho. I think our comfort food and our relationships actually did revolve around food a lot. |00:08:48| Brody That&#039 ; s really interesting. So it was the being in the boarding situation that made you realize that you missed the food that you grew up with. Had you, when you were in Thailand, before you came over, had you been motivated by food or did you cook much then? |00:09:04| Phinyawatana I did. I think I was always into food and I was probably one of the few kids in Thailand that would be hanging out with my nanny. She was from the northeast part of Thailand- Isan, Ubon. And she would do all the weekly planning of what are we going to eat. And I was very involved in that because I had my favorite things like, &quot ; Hey, I really want to make sure I have my yum woon sen, you know, my clear noodle salad.&quot ; My green curry is like my favorite things, you know, our stir fries, pak boong, which is like the water spinach, khai jiao, a very basic Thai omelet. And I was just like, &quot ; I want to learn how to make it. I want to go to the fresh market with her.&quot ; So I would go to the fresh market with her and go and see how she picked things out. The fruits- I am a big, big fruit lover. The fresh papaya, the mango, the pineapple. Anything that was in season, whether it be mangosteen. I was not a big durian person, but a lot of like the rambutans. Like I&#039 ; m just thinking the lychees, it&#039 ; s like my haven. And when you get to go to the market, you also get to eat at the market and buy food and buy fruit and toys. And it was just so much fun to be able to have that experience and I would come home and want to make- and so the point that I was designated as the clear noodle salad person. You know, I was always chopping all these herbs and getting it under my fingernails and just smelling it throughout the day it was just so awesome. And I love, love that part of me just always kind of hanging out in the kitchen, even. And I was not a thin girl. I was always eating. And at the same time we had this American kitchen versus the Thai kitchen that was outdoors because there&#039 ; s a lot of smell when it comes to Thai cooking. And my mom was probably like, you know, &quot ; I need a place where I can make my American everyday food.&quot ; Like, what would she make for us a lot? Meat loaves. And a lot of baking. Broccoli casserole. The things that she grew up with. There was this chicken thighs that were cooked in like canned mushroom soup. Just things that are very, very, to me, Texan country style. And also baking. I was always baking. Whether it be, you know, those chocolate chip cookies with the Nestle Toll House recipe or cakes, pies, banana pudding. Like full on, to me, those are like true, true country style Texas recipes. That we would make in the inside kitchen and we make all the Thai stuff in the outside kitchen, and we have different refrigerators even, so there&#039 ; s not cross-contamination on the smell of garlic or onions and green onions that would get into the butter and the milks and things like that. So, yes, a big, big, I guess, involvement in food while I even was in Thailand. |00:12:17| Brody Well, you never stopped, right? So that&#039 ; s interesting also that you said that, you know, that the girls would go out kind of on the town to eat different things. What was the food scene like in Dallas during the nineties? |00:12:34| Phinyawatana We went to a lot of times Richardson off of Main and Greenville, which is still there, and to see how much it has developed and changed has been really fun. I mean, the pho place that we went to all the time is no longer there and I&#039 ; m so sad. But it turned into, I think a Pakistani barbecue place now which I&#039 ; ve never been. So I have seen a lot of turnover of the all the different restaurants that used to be there. The Taiwanese cafe is still there. I haven&#039 ; t been in a long time. There&#039 ; s a lot more Boba places now. Our First Chinese Barbecue is still there and there used to be a dim sum place that was right there, Maxim. That&#039 ; s no longer there. I&#039 ; m super sad. And the changeover, I would have to say more than 50% of the original OG restaurants are still there. Genroku. I think Caravelle was there. I never really went there. But I remember that they have always been there. Trying to think...There was like a Tapioca cafe as well that&#039 ; s still there. And the supermarket that was there has changed names, but still, I&#039 ; m so glad that we still always have them. |00:13:56| Brody So what did you do after high school? |00:13:58| Phinyawatana After high school, I went to school up in Boston at Babson College to explore the business side of the world for Entrepreneur Studies and Marketing. And even during that time, wow, imagine that is the melting pot, Boston, definitely for sure for culture and food. And I definitely got to explore a lot more than just Asian cuisine there. Wow. Middle Eastern. Got to explore Brazilian. More Japanese restaurants up there in addition to their Chinatown there, which is amazing. Very similar to the ones that we have in Hong Kong. And also, I&#039 ; m trying to think. Korean food. I was exposed to Korean food there. |00:14:48| Brody Was there much Korean food in Dallas at that time? |00:14:50| Phinyawatana I don&#039 ; t think so. Oh no. I take that back. I mean, there was Korea House, right? Down on Harry Hines and Royal. So there was a smaller- probably one fifth of what we have now in 2022 back in 1994, 95, 96. And I remember we did get to go to Korea House and even at that time there was probably three Thai restaurants that I used to frequent, which was Royal Thai, Chow Thai in Addison. That was more towards the end in 1996, and there was one on Lower Greenville. Oh, my goodness. Thai Soon. Yes. Which is now up in Addison at the moment. So not a lot of Thai restaurants even back in the day. |00:15:43| Brody So you studied entrepreneurship. So did you kind of have that in your mind as a path you wanted to follow all along? |00:15:51| Phinyawatana The thing with that is I did not know what I wanted to do. And I said, you know what, let me just get a business degree because whatever else I decide to do, I think that would be a great basics to have. And they had this amazing program, which they still have today, where it&#039 ; s called FME- Freshman Management experience, where you actually start a business with other freshmen. And you pick your CEO out of the class, your head of operations, your CFO, your HR person, and we all got to decide which department we want to be in and learn that almost in real life and manage money for real to see if it was even a profitable business. The business that we did was a candy store on campus that did delivery. So we would take orders and we would deliver it to the door. And also a side business was to create care packages so that our other target market would be parents. Definitely in the freshman class to see, you know, they would support our business and buy care packages for their kids and that we get we would get to deliver them. So that was really fun. |00:17:09| Brody How did that business do? |00:17:10| Phinyawatana I think we made a little money. Nothing compared to what the businesses are doing now. I mean, the kids going in and the stories that I hear, they are creating businesses that are app related or much more futuristic than what we did back in the day. So it&#039 ; s it&#039 ; s been amazing. |00:17:31| Brody That&#039 ; s sounds like a really interesting program. So then how did you end up back in Dallas? |00:17:37| Phinyawatana I ended up back in Dallas after 9/11. So during that time, so I graduated in the class of 2000, stayed in Boston for about a year and a half and moved back because that was during the dot com fizzle. I think they use...or the dot com burst. But I was in marketing and did email marketing CRM for B2B businesses mostly. And actually some B2C like I did accounts like RadioShack, Pfizer. You know, those banner ads that we have today? We were like the first few people who were doing them, costs per clicks and all those fancy words and email marketing before it was spam. And during that time, I was a really hard worker. I was constantly getting not a raise, but like a new title and I wasn&#039 ; t able to afford my apartment anymore in Boston. It was not cheap to live in Boston at the time. And I think my first paycheck was either a 24K, a 27K coming out of college, and that was just not enough. And by the time I said, &quot ; You know, I&#039 ; m ready to leave.&quot ; They said, &quot ; How much do you need?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Well, that&#039 ; s probably a little bit too late at this point.&quot ; And at that time, after 9/11, my dad, my entire family had moved over here right when I was graduating from Hockaday in 1996. But then I moved away. So my dad had this- was working for a food delivery business. Again all around food all the time, apparently you know, it just was meant to be somehow, some way. And the company that he worked for was owned by American Airlines. After 9/11, that went bankrupt. And he had all these clients in his hands and all these restaurants. And he said, &quot ; Hey, would you mind or would you be interested in moving back to Dallas? Help me start this business. Because I just need somebody to help me run the operations, create a business.&quot ; Because he thinks he definitely has something and he is very entrepreneur himself. And I said, &quot ; You know what? That sounds like fun, but I&#039 ; m only going to do it for two years while I figure out what I really want to do with my life. And I&#039 ; ll go from there.&quot ; And he said, &quot ; Deal.&quot ; So I packed my entire Volkswagen Golf with my puppy dog. My mom flew up and we drove across country together over with everything that I had. And I started the business and I said that was probably one of my best experience starting that business. Because I really did everything from beginning. Went to downtown Dallas to get my ID&#039 ; s, went to the Comptroller to figure out how to do my taxes, create a new corporation. But with that, we had a really, really fun business going on. I was in and out. Not only was I taking orders in the morning, I was also once all the orders were in, we did a lot of corporate offices. So I would go out and do deliveries as well. Because you can make some extra tips. And I would be in and out of chain restaurants mostly at the time, whether it be a Chili&#039 ; s, a Black Eyed Peas, The Good Eats of the world, sandwich places. And I would get to see the back house, and it was just really fun to see them have a business even before the doors opened, right? All these catering businesses. And it was just fun to be in that environment. It was fast paced. Not every day was the same. It was around food. I love food. I got to try the food and I said at that same time, I didn&#039 ; t know anyone here anymore. Most of my friends were in the boarding department. They either went home or they also moved away for college and stayed in those towns. East coast, West coast. And my brother was here and he was working at a Thai restaurant. So I said, &quot ; You know, I really miss my Thai community, so. Let me just go work there for fun.&quot ; And at the same time, I&#039 ; ve always loved to bake. During college again, I was that either apartment or the dorm room that was always cooking something or ordering food and feeding people was really like what I loved. And during that time, I had like a big fetish with Martha Stewart and then the Food Network. And baking. And I was baking so much, exploring the whole French cuisine side of how to make things, because they say, if you know how to make French, you know how to make everything. Exploring all the food cultures there. So when I came back, I said, &quot ; I maybe one day would like to open a dessert bar or some type of bakery.&quot ; So I said I wanted to go to culinary school so I can learn how to use those mass production, how to do batching. So I went to Dallas College culinary school, downtown at the same time, working my food delivery business and waitressing in a restaurant so I could make new friends. What else was there? Oh and, singing in a band at that same restaurant. Because we just love karaoke. Thai people- we love to sing and I love to sing. Apparently, I was good. So when the local cover band heard me sing in a karaoke night, they said, &quot ; Hey, we&#039 ; re looking for a female vocal to join our band. And we actually have, you know, Friday and Saturday nights there that we have a pop up. Would you like to join?&quot ; And I said, &quot ; Oh my God. That would be so much fun.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s what I was doing for about two years. Then the opportunity to open a restaurant came up and I&#039 ; ll stop there. See if you have any other questions. |00:23:36| Brody What was the band called? |00:23:37| Phinyawatana Oh, the band. They&#039 ; re called &quot ; The Renditions.&quot ; And they&#039 ; re still around. They&#039 ; re amazing. And they really fostered my love for the community. And we even got to travel to Austin and Houston to sing at like weddings or special events at other Thai restaurants or even at the Temple. I remember it was a great time. And we got to eat at all these places. So it was awesome. |00:24:03| Brody It sounds like a lot of fun. What was the restaurant? |00:24:05| Phinyawatana The restaurant was called Thai Spice. It was a sister restaurant to Royal Thai in Addison at the time. |00:24:16| Brody So you&#039 ; re doing all this stuff. The music, the delivery, the school. Tell me, what did you get out of the, doing the culinary school, taking the classes? |00:24:29| Phinyawatana I would say a lot of probably confidence and understanding of...I think one side that is really important is safety and sanitation so that they really ingrain that into you. The professors or the chefs there are amazing. Then a lot of them are still there, so I get to see them and support them through my business and just being around the environment of...because I&#039 ; d never worked in a commercial kitchen before. I didn&#039 ; t come up the corporate side, whether it&#039 ; s the front of house or the back of house. And that was probably my only experience of using large scale ovens and scales for real and bulk ordering, batching of recipes, how to correct recipes. And meeting a lot of other people who also love to feed people was amazing as well. And forming that bond. And they were young. I mean the community college, you can start in the culinary business right after high school. And we would have everyone from 16 or 18 years old all the way up to a 70 year old who is just going to these classes at night for fun. Or some people who are looking at it as a second career, they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m so tired of being a lawyer. I&#039 ; m tired of the day to day job and I want to open my own bakery.&quot ; And they were all there and it was really fun to be around that energy. |00:25:58| Brody Did that help you with your next steps? |00:26:01| Phinyawatana I believe it did, because while I was going to culinary school and doing all these things, I don&#039 ; t know what happened. Did I do? I don&#039 ; t even know how it happened. So I met my husband at a karaoke night. And, he was working at another Thai restaurant. He&#039 ; s 100% Thai. So he came over here to go to graduate school and while he was going to graduate school, he was also working in a restaurant to be able to pay for his tuition and the cost of living. And we met and we were debating. He was very supportive of my dream. He knew that I loved to bake. And I think one of the reasons why he married me, we like to call it like it was like my chocolate flourless cake that made him say, &quot ; Hey, you&#039 ; re the person, you&#039 ; re my one.&quot ; And he I guess, saw my talent and said, &quot ; Hey, if you want to open a dessert coffee bar, like I support that.&quot ; And we were debating or deciding really was we were going to go do that in Thailand because it was also very new and nobody&#039 ; s done that and nor was it done here. But we said, you know what, let&#039 ; s try it here first. So if it doesn&#039 ; t work out here, then we can like pick up our entire life and then move it to Thailand instead of going vice versa. And you know, again, it was all meant to be. The restaurant component came about because I think my business background kicked in. And I said, &quot ; You know, it doesn&#039 ; t make sense just to do a dessert bar.&quot ; Again, this was, what? 2004 as we were opening this restaurant. The idea probably came around 2003. We were debating on what the concept was going to be. And it makes so much more sense to be able to feed somebody from beginning to end, right? Let&#039 ; s get food in their system. Then they can have dessert. Oh, there is not a Thai restaurant here in Dallas that offers a complete package like other American restaurants, New American, French, Italian, where you can have a cocktail, you can have a beautiful wine list to be paired with your dining experience with your entrees. And then be able to move on and have a beautiful cup of cappuccino with your dessert and have a complete experience in a Thai environment or Asian restaurant, let alone. So we decided like, let&#039 ; s create an Asian fusion cafe and dessert bar. We called it &quot ; Asian Mint.&quot ; We love the herb mint because it can be one of those herbs that are in a Thai dish, whether it be a salad or any particular dish. And it can also is always a garnish on a dessert plate. I mean, now today even we have micro mint, we see it less often. But back in the day, there was a mint on every single dessert plate. We wanted something green and we wanted a green restaurant. And we said, &quot ; How can we differentiate our mint to make sure that people would know it was Asian. Or Thai. And it was not a. Mexican place or an Italian restaurant? Or an American restaurant.&quot ; So let&#039 ; s put the word Asian in front of it. So we called it Asian Mint. People still understand that. And also at the time, we did not label ourself as a Thai restaurant. We called ourselves Asian Fusion. We were one of the first. And at that time, my whole idea was Thai food yet at that time was not well known. If people thought of Asian food, it would always be Chinese takeout. So I said, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s create an Asian fusion restaurant where we would have a couple of Chinese dishes with our own spin on it, whether be Thai or something that&#039 ; s a little bit more familiar in flavor.&quot ; We would have a couple of Vietnamese dishes, some Japanese dishes, but the majority of it was Thai. So let&#039 ; s say if you wanted to come to our restaurant and you knew nothing about Pad Thai or Thai fried rice or Pad See Ew or Pad Kee Mow, you would most likely know about Orange Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Lo Mein, Teriyaki Chicken, some eggrolls, some summer rolls. And we&#039 ; re going to put that on our menu, with our little spin, some Kung Pao Chicken. And that would get you in the door. Once I got you in the door, I would then introduce you to another flavor and say. &quot ; Hey. Have you tried Pad Thai? Have you tried... What is a cashew chicken? That was more of a Thai flavor profile? Have you tried our Thai fried rice?&quot ; And just through that experience, people were trying more Thai flavors and Thai dishes. Not knowingly. Thinking it was just, you know, a variation of a Chinese dish. And they&#039 ; d be like, &quot ; Wow, why is your restaurant taste so much fresher? It&#039 ; s not over soyed. It&#039 ; s not over fried.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Well, that&#039 ; s really the basis of Thai cooking and Thai cuisine. We don&#039 ; t over season a lot of our dishes to mask you know, the ingredients. We were all about the ingredients were the star, the fresh flavors, the vegetables that go in it, the fresh noodles. And we layer it with just a little bit of soy and a little bit of tamarind sauce or the Pad Thai sauce that we created. And with that, people became more interested in knowing a different type of cuisine. And I feel very proud to be able to have them experience something different. And it also attracted a lot of our clientele who are very well-educated and well-traveled. Because if some of those came in, they were like, &quot ; Wait, you are not a Chinese restaurant. Why are you called Asian Fusion? You&#039 ; re a Thai, aren&#039 ; t you? These are Thai flavors.&quot ; I&#039 ; m like. &quot ; Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Check all the boxes.&quot ; You&#039 ; re so like, you know, it was such an interesting way to share that experience. And we were also named one of the top ten best new restaurants of that year, which was a big pat on the back and put us on the map. We went from serving probably forty guests, and when that Guide came out, that Friday, we were serving 250 people. So I was calling in all my family members. My mom, my aunt, everyone came in to help cause, you know, it was that first impression. You know, we need to be able to service them. Get them in the door, get food on their table, but also service them and have them experience that Thai hospitality. And it just only takes one time, right, to make sure that they come back. And with that, I think we&#039 ; ve done a great job to be able to portray the Thai hospitality, the Thai flavor profiles, in addition to just being able to meld all the flavors that I grew up with. You know, I know the Texas flavor profile. I know the Thai profile. What are the two commonalities that come together that make people love our cuisine and be able to put that on a plate and share it with the world and make it their favorite comfort food. |00:33:26| Brody It&#039 ; s really interesting. It sounds like you&#039 ; re saying that the choices that you made were very deliberate in order to get people in the door and then expand their concept of what Asian food is and expand their palates, perhaps. Is that accurate? |00:33:44| Phinyawatana That sounds about right. I think that business, that business education came into play here big time. You know, I did my market research. I explored and having been in that, been in and out of a lot of the other restaurants, right? The big chains, and P.F. Chang was around, is around. Pei Wei barely started. And just understanding what people were ordering, right? Like now we have data out of the wazoo, where back in the day, it was like personal experience. I had to pick up and understand, okay, what are all the orders that I was taking on a daily basis? You know, what are people ordering from Chili&#039 ; s? What were people ordering from Black Eyed Pea or what are people ordering from P.F. Chang? And all these different flavor profiles. You know, if they were going to order from a Thai restaurant, what would they order? And with that, came about, you know, what are all the things that I wanted to put on the menu? Because I need to be able to service my clientele based on what they&#039 ; re going to be asking for. So definitely my marketing and my entrepreneur studies came into play big time. |00:34:54| Brody Did you see yourself as a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; or did you think of yourself as a different type of restaurant all along? |00:35:01| Phinyawatana I even still call myself a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; with four locations going on five. People say like, &quot ; You&#039 ; re not. You&#039 ; re a chain now.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No!&quot ; You know, but I don&#039 ; t want to lose the feel of being the local restaurant. And it was that&#039 ; s just an interesting question because when we opened right after a year, I had some business men literally come in their business suits asking to have a meeting with me. I was 27 at the time when I opened the restaurant. And they came in and said, &quot ; Nikky, this is such an amazing concept. There&#039 ; s nothing out there like this. We love your cuisine. We want to be able to open an Asian Mint everywhere.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What?&quot ; Like that, just, I didn&#039 ; t quite comprehend. Like, but it did implant in my brain of like the potential of what I had created. My marketing brain, if you&#039 ; re asking me that question, is when I was creating the name, the logo, the colors and anything like that, I definitely was thinking like, &quot ; Okay, if I had to duplicate this a couple of more times, how can I make it simple?&quot ; I mean, down to the point, to the logo of it being white and green, I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Okay, when I have to print this logo on anything, it&#039 ; s one color. It&#039 ; s a lot cheaper than having it multicolor. And let&#039 ; s make sure we find a font that is accessible, readily accessible to anyone who picks it up, graphically. Had to be...My husband has a graphic and design background. So when we were thinking about all of this, we also wanted to make sure that it was simple enough for people to understand but to be duplicated. And I think that was probably something that those businessmen saw. So I did probably have in the back of my mind and said, &quot ; You know what? Maybe we could have 100 Asian Mints one day.&quot ; So let&#039 ; s, let&#039 ; s keep that, you know, and continue to move forward and be innovative and be creative and have fun, but also make sure that the business aspect of it also makes sense. Whether from a marketing perspective, a financial, all of the above. Being able to duplicate it. |00:37:24| Brody That&#039 ; s really interesting. What would you say the spirit of a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; Asian restaurant is? |00:37:33| Phinyawatana The spirit of a &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; Asian restaurant is, I think, the hospitality, hospitable part of it. Friendly. You come in and you don&#039 ; t feel like it has a corporate feel. And that was something that I also learned, because when I started going to meet a lot of these corporate restaurant people, I guess, I wanted to educate myself a lot more like even the Brinkers of the world had these classes at SMU, and I wanted to go and figure out you know, how do they do it? Right. But when when I went into those classes, the only thing that Mr. Brinker was talking about in the classes and the professors was you know, the hospitality side of it. There&#039 ; s the business side, but how are they, as a corporate restaurant chain, continuing to have that local &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; feel? It&#039 ; s like the corporates are always trying to get the &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; feel and the &quot ; mom and pops&quot ; are like trying to figure out how to do the corporate. So it&#039 ; s a blend of the two that I believe makes us very successful. We do have systems and processes in place that a lot of &quot ; mom and pop&quot ; restaurants don&#039 ; t have. But we think it&#039 ; s really important because with training and educating and creating consistency which is one of our main values to be able to make sure that if you went to Asian Mint one, two, three and four, you&#039 ; re getting the same experience, the same flavors, and the same overall consumer value. |00:39:14| Brody So you mentioned earlier that you&#039 ; re- definitely the first restaurant- you were kind of a local favorite, local restaurant. Who were your customers and what did that feel like? How did it become a local favorite? |00:39:28| Phinyawatana The location of our first location is right off of 635 and 75, so it&#039 ; s the High Five intersection. Not in the most beautiful shopping center. We&#039 ; re next to an Office Depot that is fairly a rundown shopping center that didn&#039 ; t have a lot of, or actually doesn&#039 ; t have any local restaurants there at all. We were surrounded by a couple of chain restaurants. Currently, they have, we have, you know, a Chipotle, we have a Boston Market, we have a 7-Eleven, we have a Which Wich, a pizza place, and Mattito&#039 ; s, Dickies at the time. So we were surrounded by chain restaurants there. We probably was the only Asian restaurant and local restaurant in that center. So logistically we attracted unknowingly a lot of the people from the hospital and also TI, Texas Instruments campus was just down the street and I didn&#039 ; t know this but they have a very, very big international employment pool. So we were attracting, again, very well traveled international background that understood our flavors and we were close. So we were serving executives, TI tech people, who are still now today super loyal. And, you know, let&#039 ; s say if it was the tech engineer that came in for lunch, they would fall in love and they would bring their wife and their kids to the restaurant on, you know, during dinnertime or during the weekend. And it kind of just grew from there. And also the community that or the households that are around our restaurant, also very well traveled, well-educated. There&#039 ; s a big Jewish base there as well who love Asian cuisine, Chinese in particular. And we attracted probably a ten, fifteen mile radius and we were probably one of the closest Asian restaurants down from the Richardson Chinatown that people could explore. |00:41:48| Brody You talked about hospitality. What is your philosophy of, behind hospitality? |00:41:54| Phinyawatana Hospitality is what Thailand is known as one of the most hospitable country in the world. And I think that was definitely ingrained in me. You know, when somebody would come over to your house, the first thing you would ask is, you know, &quot ; Can I get you a glass of water? What can I get you to drink? Have you eaten yet? Let me feed you.&quot ; Even before we did anything else. And I found this commonality also in the Jewish community. You know, if it was anyone coming to your house, the first thing they going to make you do is eat, right? We feed you. We make sure you&#039 ; re comfortable before we would, you know, have any conversations or even conduct anything. And, you know, we would normally be hanging out in the kitchen. So hospitality to me is definitely feeding that person&#039 ; s soul. Feeding that person&#039 ; s way beyond just their stomach. But making them comfortable. Making them feel seen. Making them feel at home. And then being able to feed them one of their favorite comfort foods so that they can go out in the world and make a difference in their own way. |00:42:57| Brody That&#039 ; s really nice. Going back to the nuts and bolts of starting that first business. You mentioned the location being there near the High Five and TI and the hospital. Did you choose that location on purpose or... |00:43:13| Phinyawatana That location was a sushi restaurant that I had a friend working there who was a sushi chef. And I don&#039 ; t know how the conversation went, but basically he was telling me that if you&#039 ; re interested in opening a restaurant, this is a great location and the owner might be interested in selling. He was kind of done. He was more in the telephone business. He was opening this for fun. And it wasn&#039 ; t so fun for him anymore. So we went in and started talking to him and he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Yeah, you know what? If it&#039 ; s at a good price point, then we would be interested in selling.&quot ; That was probably one of the main reasons as well why we have sushi at that particular location because when we opened, I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Well, what if people come in wanting sushi?&quot ; So we&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Well, let&#039 ; s make sure we serve sushi.&quot ; So with that, I did some market research by going to all of the local chains around there. I would go and sit at lunchtime and dinner time at the bar. Let&#039 ; s say if it was Black Eyed Pea at the time and just go sit there and watch people come in and out, start counting the number of people coming in and out, start talking to the people who came in. And one. Of my favorite questions I was asking was &quot ; Do you know Thai food?&quot ; And they&#039 ; d be like, &quot ; What?&quot ; You know, like. Or if somebody did and like, &quot ; Where do you normally have Thai food?&quot ; And it would be somewhere fairly far from where they are there. So they didn&#039 ; t have access. So I know, okay, let&#039 ; s say there was like 300 or 300 people that came in for lunch at that BlackEyed Pea every single day. And I said, &quot ; Okay, there&#039 ; s like five chains around here. If let&#039 ; s say we get ten, twenty people from each chain and we serve 100 people, I think we should be able to pay rent, right?&quot ; At a price point of $10 to $15 a person, did the multiplication. If we can survive during lunch time, we should be able to survive here at this particular location. So that&#039 ; s kind of how I did my market research, which I highly recommend even till today. With all the data out there, I think being on the ground, talking to people and getting a feel of the energy around there, which I have a knack for. I love going in and using my gut feeling to understand the, the energy around the center, around the space, around the people that come in, the energy that&#039 ; s created. It&#039 ; s really important when you&#039 ; re doing I believe a hospitality business. And in particular a food service business. |00:45:43| Brody Have you done that for all the locations? |00:45:44| Phinyawatana I kind of have, actually. |00:45:47| Brody Tell me about the other locations. |00:45:51| Phinyawatana So we opened Forest Lane in 2004. At the end of 2004. I had an inkling to open another one and my goal with the second one was how can I open another restaurant with systems and processes enough where I did not have to be there as much? I wanted to prove to myself. This first one still has to be babysat every day. And so I said, &quot ; Let me try to open another location.&quot ; And funny enough, the second location was actually was supposed to be our first location. So I met an amazing gentleman who&#039 ; s no longer here, Marcello Rosen. And I, and I think of him very, very often as my first mentor. Because when I was trying to find a location, I was driving around everywhere and I was going into all these neighborhoods. And we went to the Shops of Highland Park and there was this small Thai restaurant there that turned over more than five times. And there was a space that was available and his name was on there and I literally sat down on a bench and I don&#039 ; t know what got into me. And I called him and he picked up. And when I called him, I told him like &quot ; Hey, my name is. Nikky. I&#039 ; m looking for a space to open a restaurant.&quot ; I think he totally recognized I was definitely in my twenties, probably did not sound that mature or sophisticated at all, but for some reason we sat and talked for over an hour and he said, &quot ; Nikky, I love your spirit. You are very entrepreneurial. You sound like an amazing person. Let me help you. You don&#039 ; t want this location to be your first location. Let&#039 ; s go find another location with, with me. Let&#039 ; s go find something.&quot ; So he was a realtor, but he was representing that center. And I said, &quot ; Okay, that sounds interesting. I really don&#039 ; t know what that means.&quot ; But we met and I told him about this other location. And he, I guess, did his research and he said, &quot ; You know. This looks like a good, good location. Are you sure that he was really ready to sell and not this?&quot ; And he kind of guided me through on how selling of a business process happens. He started teaching me a little bit more of like, &quot ; Okay, make sure your numbers are right. You know, you&#039 ; re going to have to give away your life when you sign these leases, right? You know, like you have nothing. You probably can&#039 ; t get a bank loan. The landlord doesn&#039 ; t know you, so you&#039 ; re going to have to sign your life away. And by the way, this is how much money you probably need to have and figure out how much money you&#039 ; re going to need to turn this place over into the type of restaurant that you want.&quot ; So that was a lot, a lot of homework that I had with my husband. Other than just a fun side, which I love, you know? Coming up with the name and the logo and the colors, there&#039 ; s like a whole nother side, right? My dream of opening a dessert place and serving sweets to people was not as simple as you could think and I and I had to write a business plan. I did learn how to write a business plan in college. So that was like the starting point. And I recommend anybody who&#039 ; s starting a business to please write a business plan. It might change, it might steer away, but all the key points of to the why you are opening this business is on that piece of paper and it should guide you. As it should guide you. And the financial side is extremely, extremely important. So yes, second location. Four years after...Oh, my God. This is such a funny story. I was looking at that location. This was the time when a Thai restaurant, I think, was kind of not doing so well anymore. And I had a regular customer. I was always in the restaurant talking to everyone all the time. So I was talking to a customer. I still remember that day? And he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; You, Nikky, come here. You need to open one in Highland Park.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Funny. I was going to open in Highland Park, and this was the spot I was thinking about.&quot ; And he&#039 ; s like, &quot ; What? That landlord is my, is my neighbor.&quot ; And okay, now I remember. At that time, that Thai restaurant, that whatever restaurant that was there had already closed and they left a bad taste in the landlord&#039 ; s mouth. So when I went looking at that center, the landlord&#039 ; s representative said, &quot ; We&#039 ; re never opening a Thai restaurant or an Asian restaurant in my strip ever again.&quot ; That&#039 ; s what they said. So when I was talking to this gentleman, he said, &quot ; That&#039 ; s ridiculous. I am going to talk to my neighbor right now. And expect a call.&quot ; So I think it was two days later, their representative called me back and said, &quot ; Hey, we&#039 ; re interested in having you in our center.&quot ; Right? I was like, you know, if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. And we started negotiating and talking. And it was a smaller space. And I think also the landlord at the time, he was like a meat and potatoes guy as well. So it was really interesting to be able to service that community who didn&#039 ; t have a lot of Asian options and they did not want to drive above Northwest Highway over to Richardson or Garland or anywhere to have really, really good Asian cuisine. So that&#039 ; s how the second location opened. It was four years later. So this was around 2008. I was also pregnant at the time after I signed my lease. So I like to tell people for me, my luck comes in pairs. No matter what I&#039 ; m doing, it just happens to be like two big life changing events will be happening at the same time, and I just learned to accept that. So I found out that I was pregnant. So I literally was at the restaurant doing that build out while I was pregnant throughout the whole time. And even when we were written up in the Guide, I had a picture of me probably seven months pregnant, pretty big on the cover of the Guide. And I just, you know, remember that dress that I had to find and that pose. And I was like, you know, it was, it was amazing. I had my son in 2009, early 2009. And it was a great experience. But that also confirmed the whole point of me not definitely being able to be in the restaurant 24/7. Not only can I be in one, I can&#039 ; t be in two because I now need to put my mother hat on and become a mom and have this baby and explore that, that life of mine. So, yeah. |00:52:57| Brody So. A lot of times people who I&#039 ; m talking to about restaurants talk about this struggle to if you have a, you have your restaurant, right, your &quot ; mom and pop.&quot ; That is the same thing that you&#039 ; re talking about that the wanting to be there all the time or needing to be there all the time, that control piece of it. And for many people, it seems like it&#039 ; s really difficult to let that go for worry about the product or the service or whatever. How, obviously it was partly by necessity because you had a baby, but, you know, how did you think about that differently? It just, it seems like you were approaching it from the beginning of not wanting to babysit the second restaurant. |00:53:44| Phinyawatana Mm hmm. |00:53:44| Brody So what was different for you in your way of thinking about that? |00:53:53| Phinyawatana That is...This just brought me into another story that I thought of. So, I don&#039 ; t know if it&#039 ; s because I&#039 ; m more of a visionary or just very daring, but when I was waitressing at Royal Spice and while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, right, I was going to school, culinary school, waiting tables. And at that time, I really didn&#039 ; t know what I wanted to do. So before I even started looking at restaurants, I was asking my super regulars and said, &quot ; Hey, you know, I&#039 ; m like in my I think I was like 25 or something like that. And it was like, what should I do with my life, you know? Like, what should I do? This is what I&#039 ; m going for.&quot ; And there was this one customer of mine. I remember to this day and I tell this story sometimes very differently. Is he said, &quot ; Nikky. Whatever you do, do not open a restaurant.&quot ; And I said, &quot ; Okay,&quot ; but like a light bulb went off. And I said, &quot ; You know what? If he says it, this is the hardest thing to do, I&#039 ; m going to start there and then work myself backwards so I can say at least I&#039 ; ve done something I haven&#039 ; t done.&quot ; And also at the time I remember till this day my goal is to retire on a beach with a B&amp ; B in Thailand and service people. So at the end of the day, I said, &quot ; If I open a restaurant, at least I would learn how to run a restaurant, I would learn how to serve food, I would learn how the hospitality business is. And I could take that knowledge whether it fails or not to my year end goal or end of the life retirement of being on the beach and being able to do that.&quot ; Eight years later, here we are still doing it, still loving it, and still growing it. But because of that conversation, again, somebody said, if you do open a restaurant, you are going to basically live in that restaurant 24/7 which was the case. For the first five years, I was there 20 something hours a day. I literally rented an apartment across the street and we were open from ten or eleven o&#039 ; clock to like two in the morning, just testing out the market. And I would drag myself home or across the street, sleep for three hours, come back, start it all over again just to figure out, you know, how does this really happen? So I think I was trying to again debunk the idea of a restaurant owner has to be there 24/7 or control freak in a way. And I went out and about and started again studying how the corporate people do it, right? How do how do they do it? Because their people are not there 24/7. And I said, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s, let me try to do that.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s how the second location came about. But then when I was pregnant, I was like, &quot ; Well, I definitely am not going to be here. I have an expiration date of March 12. I&#039 ; m going to have this baby around that time, so let&#039 ; s make sure everything gets set and settled before I have to probably leave for three months and have this baby.&quot ; So yeah, I had promoted a couple of my people in the restaurant who was interested in learning the business side of it, not just serving and become the manager of the store. And she took it very seriously as it was her own place and I&#039 ; ve also learned that I was very blessed to be able to create jobs for people, to be able to pay them well so that they can go and take care of their family. And it is a blessing to be able to do that, to create jobs in doing something that I love, that they can love to feed people and know that they&#039 ; re making a difference in this world, not just for their family. So I take that very seriously. So as we grow, every restaurant, it is all about growth, not from a financial perspective, but really from building people within our business to for them to be able to grow, to have a growth plan, to be able to move up in the world and have a different life in the job that they love doing. |00:58:00| Brody How do you set that tone? |00:58:03| Phinyawatana I have to do it. And it took a very, very long time. It took probably having two kids and four restaurants to the point like, &quot ; Okay, guys. If you don&#039 ; t kick me out. You can&#039 ; t move up.&quot ; And I say this all the time and I&#039 ; ve learned this, that you have to create a succession plan. I, I hired a business coach, life coach, business coach all together and she helped me talk through my understanding of, like, there is a world out there where you don&#039 ; t have to be involved or be in the restaurant 24/7. It can still run. You know, you just need to put these systems and processes in place. You need to hire the right people. You need to train them. You need to create the love, the values, the mission. All of these things that I never, ever learned because I didn&#039 ; t go through the corporate world like everyone else did. So I learned it in real life with my own money and created I guess, you know, my own MBA in a way of how to be very entrepreneur and open multiple businesses. And I think one of the most, I guess a story again, is when I was building up my right hand girl, Gee who&#039 ; s been with me for over 15 years, she started off as a bus girl and moved her way all the way up to now, my COO. And I said, &quot ; Hey, I&#039 ; m in the CFO role right now, or CMO, whichever one I wanted to be that day. Sometimes it&#039 ; s more like cleaner. But in two years we need to find somebody to fit in your role. And you need to fit in my shoes so that you can push me out and step into my shoes. Right?&quot ; And that kind of goes along. So everybody behind her, we need to find that next person. To become the Gee and then Gee becomes the next Nikky. And just kind of we all just kind of move up all together. And the more locations we have, the more openings of these managerial positions we have so we can constantly, if they are interested in the path and not just like, okay, we hire a lot of either high school students or college kids who are just again, like when we started off, me and my husband, is to have a living wage to be able to pay for our tuition. But to actually have it as a career path. It&#039 ; s not just about serving or cooking. There are multiple different roles in a restaurant like Accounting, Finances, HR, Marketing. Back in the day, people who went in the restaurant business just didn&#039 ; t see that. As like either you&#039 ; re a server or you&#039 ; re a cook. You know, pick one. But there are so much more today that we have been able to create in our organization and being able to have them figure out okay, maybe you actually love social media. How can you do it in our restaurant. You love taking care of people. Let&#039 ; s figure out how you can become the best HR and scheduling. You love finance and accounting. You know, good for you because that&#039 ; s not me. Let&#039 ; s have you make sure that you know how to, you know, balance a balance sheet and balance out the drawer every night. So it&#039 ; s been really, really fun and setting the tone again. It&#039 ; s all about letting them know that there are many, many pathways within our restaurant concept. |01:01:21| Brody So 2004, 2008, you open locations. When was the next period of growth? |01:01:26| Phinyawatana The next period of growth was after I believe I had my second and only real child. So I call my restaurants and my children as well. So I have four restaurants, so four kid restaurant kids and I have two real kids, Knox and Sky, currently thirteen and eight. So after I had Knox, I was trying to figure out. Am I stay at home mom? Am I the mom who&#039 ; s, you know, a part of the PTA? And all that. And I tried that for for a good year or two. And I realized, like, I am not that mom. And I had mom guilt every single day. Even when I first had my kid, I was having mom guilt when I was not at work. And I was having no- I was having mom guilt when I was at work. And I was having work guilt when I was at home with my kid. And that was a constant struggle and still is today. So it&#039 ; s a work in progress. So after I had my second child. 2013, she was born at the end of the year, I found my business coach. And I told her, I am at a place where I have enough staff who are doing an amazing job that I can go on and be a mom 100% of the time. Or maybe I go figure out something else to do because I still want to help the world in one way or another. My goal now, as a mom with two real kids, is how can I leave this world in a better place than when I came into the world and how I found it? So do I go work in nonprofits? How can I use my talent? And being around the business coach and other entrepreneurial women in this community called E-Women Network, I realize- or they were making me realize- that, Nicky, you have a platform and I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What is that?&quot ; They&#039 ; re like &quot ; Your restaurant is a platform. The community you created around these restaurants is a platform. You can do so many more things than just a restaurant around what you&#039 ; re doing.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; What do you mean?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Do you love to teach? Oh yeah, I teach cooking classes.&quot ; I&#039 ; ve been doing that since 2000.... I don&#039 ; t know when couple of years in because people were interested, right? So I was doing cooking classes, I was teaching people, I was out catering. I was doing all these other things. Like what? Yeah, there&#039 ; s so many more you can educate people about what you&#039 ; re doing. You have been all your life talking to people all day long. You just didn&#039 ; t realize like there are other mediums that you can do this in, whether it be a podcast or how do you do it on social media. At the time, being on the web, getting on a network like there&#039 ; s so many more options. And that came about of like, okay, well, I have other staff members who want to open a business or open a restaurant and, you know, let&#039 ; s do it a couple more times. And so that came number three, I believe. I&#039 ; m going to get my numbers wrong. 2004, 2000, eight. Nine. So it had to be after 2013, maybe I did my third and fourth. I have to go back and look at that. So the Inwood location... Inwood and Lovers currently, I believe is seven or eight. Yes, it was a year before I had Sky. Maybe about the same time again. The miracles happen in twos, right? And then also at that time, the second, the third location took a really long time to get that location- solidify a deal and build it out. It was a really, really old building. Multilevel. Really interesting. Took a really long time to build. Took a really long time to get the deal done. But I was getting antsy. Oh, I know. It had to be in 2016. So it was after I had my girl. Because at that same time it was like, &quot ; Do we open Inwood or do we expand our first location?&quot ; And because the deal was taking so long, I was like, well, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s explore this other one, because it looks like Inwood&#039 ; s not going to happen.&quot ; And of course, it happened. And then the opportunity to be able to expand also happened. So we were expanding our first location, and we were opening our third location around the same time. And then a year and a half later, I think I did the fourth location, a whole brand new concept, which was a big fail, a big lesson. A really expensive MBA. And we&#039 ; re now currently working on a fifth. So, yeah, there&#039 ; s many, many iterations of how this story goes. So, yes, third location, second kid, expansion, and then fourth. |01:06:03| Brody What was the fourth location? |01:06:05| Phinyawatana The fourth location was on Campbell, near 75 on the west side in Richardson. And I think that was 2017. Because we did a whole year of failure 2000...Maybe 2018. A whole year failure. And we turned it into an Asian Mint at the end of 2019 in October. And then COVID happened. So, yes. |01:06:33| Brody What was the year of failure? What was...What happened? |01:06:35| Phinyawatana Had that fun year also basically oops, in 2017. I am a big visionary and an innovator and I said, &quot ; I want to open a restaurant that was touchless, serviceless-ish, and all computerized, cashless, even preferred. So I was coming up with kind of like a cross between a Chipotle meets...there was another concept up in DC that I was keeping an eye on. I can&#039 ; t remember the name because they also did not work out and, but basically an easier way, again, thinking of a concept that might be easier to duplicate, maybe less staff more- what&#039 ; s the word? Not technology driven. Right. So we would have a POS system at the front where a customer would order themselves, get a number, go sit down. The foods get served. So his contactless, cashless. No server needed in a bowl concept. They had the bowl concepts were big at that time. But I didn&#039 ; t realize how strong my brand was. Asian Mint. So this was this concept was called &quot ; EnjoyMint,&quot ; a wordplay on &quot ; enjoyment.&quot ; And, and it was a fairly big location. We took over an existing Asia concept that came in from Colorado that&#039 ; s no longer there. And when my loyal fans of, let&#039 ; s say ten plus years came over because, &quot ; Oh my God, this is so exciting. I have an Asian Mint in my neighborhood.&quot ; They would come in and be like, &quot ; Wait, what is this? I don&#039 ; t understand. What? I have to serve myself? What is this? This is not the same. Do you have that particular dish at that restaurant?&quot ; And we did. And we simplified the menu and they sat down and enjoyed it and they said, &quot ; This is good. Nikky. I mean, you know. It, it&#039 ; s great. But, man, I wish I had my own Asian Mint in my neighborhood.&quot ; And I said, &quot ; You know, but this is like, very cool.&quot ; And they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Yeah, it&#039 ; s very cool.&quot ; So I kept trying and trying and trying. Every month I was losing money. But I said, &quot ; You know what? Let&#039 ; s give this concept a year.&quot ; So we literally should have probably switched it over after three months, six months at most. But I said, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s try it for a year and if it&#039 ; s still not making money, then we&#039 ; ll switch it to an Asian Mint.&quot ; So we had a backup plan, right? We were stuck in this lease for, you know, ten years plus. So, yeah. It did not work. Came COVID. I think if it was open after COVID. Contactless. Curbside delivery. I mean, this would have been great. But yes. |01:09:39| Brody Ahead of your time. |01:09:40| Phinyawatana Ahead. And I realized that. I realize I&#039 ; m normally two years ahead of my time in terms of innovation. And I think I&#039 ; ve learned to slow down a little bit so...If what is it they call if it&#039 ; s not broken, you know, why are you trying to fix it? So, yes, lesson learned. So our fifth location is still going to be an Asian Mint. And we know what we do well, our staff knows how to how to open a restaurant very easily and seamlessly at this point. So we have a, we have a systems and processes in place. We have the people who love to do it. So we&#039 ; re going to continue on this route until we hit ten, hopefully in the next 5 to 7 years. And we&#039 ; ll see how that goes. |01:10:24| Brody Wow. That&#039 ; s a long term for sure. |01:10:27| Phinyawatana Now we have a long term plan. |01:10:28| Brody So the fifth location, can you say where it is? |01:10:32| Phinyawatana Yes, we will be opening in Addison. Right off of Montfort and Beltline on the southwest corner. It used to be a Cafe Gecko over 25 years, a big, loyal following. My co-tenants, we have Flower Child. We have a Shake Shack, Jeni&#039 ; s Ice Cream, Genroku, Mendocino Farm and a lot of places like a golf place, pilates, nail salon. Everything that would bring amazing foot traffic. So great co-tenants, great location. Not too far for me to be able to still visit and service. And yeah, we&#039 ; re super excited. |01:11:15| Brody That&#039 ; s very exciting. A lot of a lot of growth and I&#039 ; m interested in hearing your thoughts. You talked about your feeling of personal mission and wanting to help the world and leave the world better than you found it and use your platform to do that. How are you doing that? |01:11:34| Phinyawatana So at this time, I have realized that I created a brand for myself, apparently not knowingly. You know, I was listening to Oprah this morning and she said, &quot ; You know, I don&#039 ; t know what a brand is.&quot ; But after you are servicing people with a mission in mind is to make the world a better place to feed a soul and not just their stomach, and inspiring them through food, through culture, and for me, it&#039 ; s travel. I love to travel. I said, &quot ; Let me figure out how to how to do that.&quot ; And I said, &quot ; I can&#039 ; t be at every restaurant anymore.&quot ; At the same time, people are asking me, &quot ; So how can I still be able to reach everyone and feel like I&#039 ; m doing my part right?&quot ; So there is the Internet, this thing called the Internet. And now YouTube. And I created my own brand called Chef Nikky where I get to create, share recipes, inspiring life stories of how to be a mom, an entrepreneur, a business owner, a sister, a daughter, my multicultural background, human being of AAPI and showing that there is there is a way and hopefully inspire other women entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs in general of you know if there&#039 ; s a will, there&#039 ; s a way. If you...I believe in giving back into the community. So whenever I have the opportunity to service my community in any way, I do that as well. And through that brand, I have cooking classes, private, private or group. Whether it be Thai cooking experiences, culinary retreats to Thailand, at the moment will be expanding to Southeast Asia and cooking shows on YouTube, which has been so much fun. We call them &quot ; Thai Takeovers.&quot ; We just started this late November of 2021. Yes. So the concept there is...I hear this all the time when I&#039 ; m in the restaurant or whatnot, is &quot ; Nikky, Thai food is so hard to make. I have to go buy all these special ingredients. I don&#039 ; t know where to find all this stuff. I can&#039 ; t make Thai food at home.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; No, that is not true.&quot ; So I created a sauce line coming out of COVID because I wanted to have people understand it is easy to make Thai food at home. Use a couple of these sauces and you can create Asian flavors very easily, just as if you were making a bowl of spaghetti at home. Instead you&#039 ; re making a bowl of Pad Thai, right? So what this show is all about is I go into other people&#039 ; s homes, into their kitchen. All I take is my sauces and a wok. And what I do is I go through their refrigerator and their pantry and see what they have and talk about some of their favorite dishes, whether it be Thai or not. Some flavor profiles that they love or their family. And we come up with an Asian flavored dish at home under 30 minutes with everything that you already have in your pantry, in your fridge. And it has been so much fun for me because I&#039 ; ve also realized that I&#039 ; m merging cultures through food. So literally, last Friday I was at a house and I found out that she was from the Middle East. She grew up in Israel and she loves Thai food, she loves Indian flavors. And she was like, &quot ; How are you going to &quot ; Thai up&quot ; one of like my favorite Middle Eastern dishes of all time? And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t know, let&#039 ; s see.&quot ; And she challenged me. She&#039 ; s like, &quot ; I have this particular dish. I want to teach you how to make it. And I want to see how you are going to &quot ; Thai&quot ; it up.&quot ; So we literally started adding lemongrass, makrut lime leaf. We started adding lime juice, Thai chilies into this beautiful beet soup that she taught me how to make with these...and I can&#039 ; t think of the name at the moment. We said it probably 100 times on the show. Starts with a K, a kibbe, something like that. Yes. With a meat filling. That&#039 ; s made out of a wheat wheat gluten thing that we made. Oh, my God. I&#039 ; m so butchering, butchering this. And it was so yummy. And it&#039 ; s like her comfort food meeting my comfort food. And we were calling it East meets Middle East dish and it was so much fun to create. And that&#039 ; s just one example. I made Thai flavored fish tacos at a house. We have made shrimp pasta dish with fresh pasta with an Italian fusion. We have made oh, a chicken biriyani dish at an Indian house with Thai flavors and my sauces. We have made all the basics as well. Everyone&#039 ; s like, &quot ; Nikky, please, please teach me how to make green curry. You have to teach me how to make Pad Thai.&quot ; We made the Pad See Ew, we made the Pad Kee Mow. We made the curries. We made our peanut sauce very recently. Two days ago. And it&#039 ; s just been so fun and like a really aha moment. I just like see all these light bulbs going off in all of these minds and all these kitchens that I go into and that is so, so feeding for me. To let them really understand that it is not that hard to create Asian flavors at home. Even our supermarkets today around the corner, your neighborhood, your Tom Thumb and whatnot will have an Asian aisle that is constantly growing. And every time I go in, there&#039 ; s like a new sauce. Oh, my God, finally they have the vermicelli noodles, not just the pad Thai noodles, and now they have the rice paper, and now they have, you know, all these bottled sauces. And it&#039 ; s just so exciting to see them carrying all these ingredients that I used to not be able to get, whether I was bringing them in my suitcase or I had to go to an Asian supermarket myself to go get these particular ingredients. So it&#039 ; s just been so fun to share that knowledge of blending cultures and food and flavor and talking about even you know, their relationship with food. Talking about their travels and how their travels had affected their food. How they plan their trips around food. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You are my people, you know?&quot ; So it has been so fun for me. Fun for every household that we&#039 ; ve been going into. And absolutely, hopefully also so much fun for everybody who&#039 ; s watching it on our YouTube channel. |01:18:36| Brody Sounds like a lot of fun and really delicious mash ups. That reminds me and something that&#039 ; s come up in a lot of these conversations is the question of authenticity. Right? What are your thoughts around that? I know it&#039 ; s a complicated, a complicated concept. |01:18:56| Phinyawatana Authenticity. Whenever I have to explain authenticity Thai flavors to people, I like to do this analogy with barbecue, because I&#039 ; m from Texas as well. And Texans understand barbecue. So think of this. Is Texas barbecue the same as Kansas barbecue? Is it the same as Florida barbecue? Is it the same barbecue even from Austin to Dallas? Right? So when you&#039 ; re thinking of Thai cuisine and you&#039 ; re asking me, &quot ; Hey, why is your Pad Thai not the same as this Pad Thai in this other restaurant? And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Funny. I just happen to know that that particular chef or the owner of that restaurant is from a different part of Thailand. This restaurant owner is from the northern part of Thailand, and they grew up with a different flavor profile and raw materials to create that particular dish. So that is why the influence of those particular flavors in that restaurant is different from mine.&quot ; I am Bangkok style cuisine. We are almost like the mash up of all the regional, all these different regions in Thailand, in addition to all the other Asian countries. You know, we&#039 ; re like the New York City or the Hong Kong of Thailand. Bangkok is. So let&#039 ; s say if you went to a Thai restaurant where the owners are from the southern part of Thailand, you are going to get much spicier dishes that has a lot more maybe Malaysian flavors. Infused into them, Indian flavors, and a lot of seafood. Right? That&#039 ; s going to be what they grew up on, the flavors that they grew up on. And that&#039 ; s what they know on how they&#039 ; re going to make their particular Pad Thai or curries. And that&#039 ; s what they&#039 ; re sharing through their restaurant. So authenticity again, comes back to where that particular person is from, what flavor profiles that they grew up with, raw materials, why ingredients, and how they bring their authenticity to the table through their restaurant concept or even in their house. And again, I can only say, like, for me, I&#039 ; m I am a blend, you know, of my heritage, whether it&#039 ; s from Texas, America in general, Boston, and Thailand, and all my other travel experience from all around the world. And these are the flavors that I grew up with, and this is what I want to share with my people. |01:21:20| Brody That&#039 ; s really nice. And also the show that you&#039 ; re talking about, those connections between people, the bridges that you&#039 ; re building are really interesting and unique. Why do you think food is an easy or accessible way for people to make those kind of connections or build those bridges? |01:21:47| Phinyawatana I think it goes back to how we&#039 ; re brought up, right? In a family. It&#039 ; s around the kitchen. Mama, grandma, great grandma. We are the, the female in the household is the person who brings life, I think. And around life, a lot of their love language is food. And for us to be able to feed people, especially in the Asian culture, food is definitely our love language. We are not extremely affectionate. We don&#039 ; t you know, we&#039 ; re not touchy, huggy, in a lot of senses. And we have to feed people. And I think it&#039 ; s similar in other cultures, as well. So I believe that food is definitely one of the easiest places where people come together. We sit at the dining table together. We converse over a delicious meal that touches all our souls very similarly. And we&#039 ; re able to have that special connection and communicate and openly share who we are together around food and the dinner table. |01:22:55| Brody That&#039 ; s really interesting. And I think that a lot of what you&#039 ; re saying, you know, shows that you&#039 ; re actively building those connections. So I was wondering if you could talk some more about the traveling and about the trips. What are the, what are the goals and what kinds of, and what kinds of things are you doing? |01:23:14| Phinyawatana I&#039 ; m almost letting out the secret of why I created these travel trips, but I think my husband and my kids finally already know. So I love, love to travel. I have traveled around the world. I, during college, I went through this program called Semester at Sea, where you literally sail around the world. Many different continents. Ten different countries. Experience all food and culture. And I&#039 ; ve been traveling since I was 13, going to school, right? Back and forth, back and forth. And with that and now that I have restaurants and kids. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Oh my God, what&#039 ; s going to be the best excuse for me to be able to travel and not feel guilty about leaving the restaurant or my family?&quot ; I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s create a food travel trip. Let&#039 ; s create this culinary retreat where I get to go and share my love of travel and, you know, be able to expense it somehow. Right?&quot ; So that birthed this culinary retreat and I&#039 ; m like, well, obviously I&#039 ; m going to start in Thailand because I know and grew up in Thailand and I want to share that with the world. And it&#039 ; s so funny also, whenever I&#039 ; m in the restaurant and I&#039 ; m talking to people and I say, &quot ; I just came back from Thailand.&quot ; My super regulars would be like, &quot ; Nikky, please, please take me on your next trip.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; Well, I can&#039 ; t take you if I&#039 ; m taking my family. I got family duties. But let me figure out a way to take you and be able to service you 100% with my time and energy and give you the best experience possible.&quot ; So I had my first trip in 2019 in November. We had an amazing trip. And I was smart enough to take a camera crew with me. Because I said, &quot ; I want to document this because it&#039 ; s going to be an amazing experience. I don&#039 ; t know what&#039 ; s going to happen. I have an itinerary and you know, it&#039 ; s going to be amazing.&quot ; I took eleven souls to Thailand who&#039 ; s never been to Thailand at all, ever. They all had traveled around the world. They&#039 ; ve done other foodie trips. They&#039 ; ve done Italy, they&#039 ; ve done France, they&#039 ; ve done, funny enough, Vietnam. China, Japan. I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; But we&#039 ; ve never been to Thailand. And like, if I was going to Thailand, I&#039 ; m going with you, Nikky. You know the language, you know the people, you know the food. Let&#039 ; s go have fun.&quot ; So on these trips, we hit all the highlights of Thailand. Right? You need to visit the major temples, Reclining Buddha, the islands, whether it be major festivals. But in that, I want people to understand the different flavors of Thailand like we were talking before. So we would go to at least two different parts of the country. We would be in the south, in Thailand, central or north and central or, you know, northeast in central. But we would explore the markets. Let&#039 ; s say we start out in Phuket. Like this next trip I&#039 ; m going on, we&#039 ; re starting in Phuket. We&#039 ; re going to explore a local market we&#039 ; re going to eat at a lot of different restaurants, visit all the sights, see the big Buddha. Go on a catamaran, island jumping, hopping trip. As well as do a cooking class and cook from the flavor profile of the southern part of Thailand. Then we&#039 ; re going to fly over to Bangkok. And we&#039 ; re going to visit the sites. We&#039 ; re going to visit more markets. We&#039 ; re going to have another kind of cooking class so you can understand all the flavor profiles that would come from this central part of Thailand. And go eat at all my favorite restaurants and meet up all my friends, all my chef friends and understand that the culinary scene and the culture over in Bangkok. And then you would come back with this amazing knowledge of like, &quot ; Okay. Now I understand, right?&quot ; You have now have been immersed. You understand the hospitality, the hospitality of Thailand in addition to...And I go five star. I don&#039 ; t go. Because I&#039 ; m like, I&#039 ; m old now. I don&#039 ; t want to go rough it. I want to go have an amazing experience, hang out at these amazing resorts and pamper you to the nine where all you need to know is &quot ; What time do I need to wake up and what do I need&quot ; to bring down from my room? And I take it from there and we have an amazing time. And all of them came back every single day, somebody came up to me during that trip, that first trip and gave me a hug and said, &quot ; Nikky, this has been a life changing experience for me. I&#039 ; ve never experienced anything like this before.&quot ; For somebody, it would have been the food for another person, it would have been the people or a certain experience that they had or a combination of it all. And they said, &quot ; I now have a different perspective in life. I have a different perspective of my American life.&quot ; And they made like all these new changes and they were so inspired to follow their dream or their path that they were meant to have. You can find all that on YouTube. We have this all recorded and shared all their testimonials because, it to me, after that first trip, I said to myself, &quot ; No matter what happens, I want to continue to do this. Because not only did I have a life changing experience to be able to help these people have life changing experience, I know I&#039 ; m doing, I&#039 ; m living my mission of inspiring people through food, culture and travel.&quot ; And then, of course, 2020 happened. |01:28:33| Brody Yeah, that was my next set of questions I wanted to ask you about the impact of, in Dallas, we&#039 ; ve had the tornadoes and the ice storm and of course, COVID and everything that came with that. How has, have those challenges impacted your operations? |01:28:51| Phinyawatana I mean, everything is a lesson learned, right? If you can learn from them, then great. Hopefully the world won&#039 ; t or the universe won&#039 ; t send that lesson back to you again. We were hit by the ice storm. Fortunately, I think we only had some pipe burst, so that wasn&#039 ; t too bad. We still had to throw out everything that was in our kitchen because we had to shut down for 3 to 5 days. All the roads were shut down and electricity was out. What other supplies? Electricity. We had gas. Can&#039 ; t get on the roads. And then the tornado. That was so interesting. So a fun, fun fact. I like to call it now. The tornado came in right behind our first location and hit the Home Depot across the street. We were so fortunate that it missed us. So it went like one street behind on Northhaven. We&#039 ; re on Forest Lane and we heard the news coming in. We shut down early, but that night we had a company-wide party planned. And so, like not only were we shutting early, thank goodness we were all coming together and we all drove up to Allen, which was also the path of tornado. I don&#039 ; t know what we were thinking. But because of that, we closed early. Everybody left. And we were lucky enough that it didn&#039 ; t hit us. But man, it was like an awakening, right? There were a lot of restaurants that got hit that disappeared, you know, in a few seconds, the tornado touched up and down. But what I remember from that was we were just so lucky, you know? Again, the universal energy or the the sign was, &quot ; Hey, you&#039 ; re meant to be here. Please continue to be here, open when you can and feed people as much as you can. Because they need you.&quot ; And COVID, the thing what I...so many lessons there and I think, you know, it was a blessing in disguise, for a lot of us who can look at it from a positive perspective in hindsight 20/20, is we realized that our team was very strong. Right? Our people. And we were very responsible for the well-being of our community. When March 17 happened and all the restaurants were supposed or all the restaurants were required to shut down all our dining room and we had to open to go only we were making that really hard decision of do we shut down completely? How are we going to do this? How are we going to pivot? What restaurants stay open? Who gets to stay? Who gets to stay home? You know, staffing and everything. And we were deciding whether to shut down two locations or not at all. Right? Because we did not know what was going on. And my staff was saying, you know, maybe we can, you know, keep two locations because we have two locations that are close together, more downtown. And two of them that are close together, more up here, right, at Forest and in Richardson. So like, let&#039 ; s say let&#039 ; s keep one open. You know, let&#039 ; s get all the staff in one location and then we can, you know, alternate in and out. But my right hand gals, I have two at the time said, &quot ; Nikky, you know, why? Let&#039 ; s just stay open. You know, I have a feeling let&#039 ; s try it out.&quot ; If it doesn&#039 ; t work, because this is how we work. Let&#039 ; s try it. And if it doesn&#039 ; t work, then we figure it out, right? And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You know what? That&#039 ; s a great reminder. That is that is our value. And our value is really about our people.&quot ; Because that was like the hardest thing. We are responsible for their &quot ; Rice Bowl.&quot ; It&#039 ; s kind of like our terminology. We need to protect their rice bowl, their payroll, their paycheck. And fortunately enough, we didn&#039 ; t lay anyone off. We kept everyone who wanted to stay. And we were able to support our entire team and our community. Our Mint Fanatics supported us through all that. And every time I see somebody and still in 2022, they would come up to me and said, &quot ; Nikky, I ate at your restaurant, if not every day, every other day or every week. I made sure I ordered from you because I wanted to make sure that you were supported.&quot ; And I and I, all I can do is tear up and thank them because it was because of them that we were able to stay around and continue to be even innovative at the time because I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I&#039 ; m keeping my staff. Let&#039 ; s figure out how to create sales to be able to pay the payroll.&quot ; And we came up with the sauce line. We came up with virtual cooking classes. We converted our POS systems to be able to support curbside service. Handheld electronic devices, a better online ordering system. I mean, we innovated and innovated and innovated. And I don&#039 ; t like to say that we pivoted because we probably did 360 five hundred times and we&#039 ; re able to...I feel like we even turned into like a like an Amazon hub for a while because all we were doing was doing a lot of shipping of cooking kits at the time, where you could go online and watch me how to cook this. And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; I know you&#039 ; re not going to go out and you don&#039 ; t have time to prep because you&#039 ; re also homeschooling all your kids, but you want something fresh and an activity that they can do around the kitchen.&quot ; Got the kids in the kitchen. I got my kids in the kitchen. We were doing all these creating all these video programs. And we made the community hopefully stronger than us coming out of of of COVID. I was more connected with my family. My priorities also changed as a mom, as a business owner. And I think a lot of people were reflecting during that time because we had time to kind of, you know slow down a little bit. So that was a great lesson- COVID. |01:34:47| Brody That&#039 ; s really a creative response. I mean, going beyond curbside and and hoping for takeout orders. And it&#039 ; s pretty creative that you started the sauce line during that time and paired it with the virtual cooking classes. Are those lines of business going to continue then even though... |01:35:09| Phinyawatana We yeah...So the sauce line definitely has been growing and now we&#039 ; ve turned it into a &quot ; Thai Takeover&quot ; because really it was like, &quot ; I don&#039 ; t want to just be cooking in my kitchen and showing you how to use sauces. It&#039 ; s not fun for me, and I doubt it would be fun for you to just watch me by myself.&quot ; There&#039 ; s a million people doing that out there, right? Let me go do something different, because if I&#039 ; m having fun, you&#039 ; re having fun. So we are continuing to teach you how to use the sauces. People will still come in and buy the sauces at the restaurant or online at Chef Nikky.com. You can go on new trips. We have continued to oh, we also imported a spice from Thailand called Drama Queen, and it&#039 ; s on Amazon. We&#039 ; ve learned how to do Amazon. We&#039 ; ve learned how to get into Central Market during that time. And wow, what else did we do? The kits, we&#039 ; re kind of slowing those down. People are now going back to their norm of takeout, which I totally understand. And when they do have time to cook, they want to be able to do it from soup to nuts. I think a lot of their understanding coming out of COVID is you know, I need to make time for the important things in life. I need to make time to cook for my family, to hang out with my kids, to hang out with myself, to do self care. Oh, my God, I love baking. People were baking breads, you know, all day long. So being able to go out and find those ingredients and starting from scratch all the way to the end product and being proud of their accomplishment of what they can create in the kitchen, I believe has been a big priority for a lot of people. |01:36:46| Brody Yeah. I want to go back to just when you were talking about your initial concept and Asian fusion that you mentioned that, you know, obviously the green for the labels and the branding and everything. But I think you also mentioned that you wanted to be a &quot ; green&quot ; restaurant. |01:37:03| Phinyawatana Yes. |01:37:03| Brody How did you go about doing that? |01:37:06| Phinyawatana I guess it&#039 ; s in my personal values that always automatically stamps into my business values is being green. I love the ocean. I love the beach. I want to be green for the turtles. Whales and dolphins are like my favorite animal. You know, in addition to my dogs and being green to the world. And funny enough, even at Hockaday, I was one of the first people who started a recycling club back in the day and was able to get like those recycling dumpsters on campus. It was a long time ago. I know it&#039 ; s everywhere now. But being green, having traveled the world and seeing everything, it just makes me realize, &quot ; Hey, we need to do our part. We need to be responsible business owners.&quot ; A lot of people call that conscious capitalism, but just you know, going green by using sustainable products when we can. Being able to recycle the items that we can while we can, but still creating values. Using local products, ingredients. A big thing that I started way when nobody really was interested in was creating a wine list around wineries that were farming sustainably. Not all of them your, you know, went towards the organic labels because that was very expensive, you had to understand that. Doing biodynamic wines. Women owned wines. I was very supportive in that side of the business because I am also a women owned business. We need to support each other. And what else? Wines, ingredients. Recycle. We recycle our oils. We make sure that happens. We recycle where we can and use green products where we can. |01:39:02| Brody That&#039 ; s great. Well, really interesting and consistent all the way through. Well, are there any questions that I did not ask you that you&#039 ; d like to talk about and add to this interview? |01:39:20| Phinyawatana In relation to food cultural, and stories in the Asian Dallas. I have to say, I have, I feel very blessed to have been a part of the Asian community here in the Dallas area and being able to witness the change in the evolution of it over twenty plus years. You know, my restaurant&#039 ; s eighteen years or so, but I&#039 ; ve been in the business for a few more years prior in my other startups and working in the restaurant. But being able to watch the clientele&#039 ; s palate change over time. And being a part of that narrative, being part of telling that story. Being part of the educating of a flavor profiles. And not just Thai, but every flavor profiles of how things fused together. And you know, what are some of the similarities of comfort food that people love, whether it be the spaghetti? I mean, those are the things that I grew up with and also my kids enjoy. Your pizzas, your pastas, your burgers, your tacos. You know, there&#039 ; s like a whole taco thing, you know, all the time here in Dallas. The barbecue side and sharing that experience and being a part of somebody&#039 ; s rotation, their weekly rotation, of being their Asian go to, I feel very blessed and honored to be a part of that. And going back to flavor profile changes, I mean, the funniest thing that I always loved to like bring up or point out is like people can now handle heat and spice way much better than what they believed they could or did, you know, fifteen, twenty years ago. It&#039 ; s so fun, you know, the scale of your spice level, right? At our restaurant, you know, we don&#039 ; t go by numbers. People still come in like, &quot ; I want a five, a ten.&quot ; And I&#039 ; m like, &quot ; You want a five? A ten out of fifty? Out of a hundred? Like, what are we talking about? You know, that&#039 ; s a five out of five or it&#039 ; s a three out of five.&quot ; I don&#039 ; t know. So we just go by mild, medium hot, or Thai hot. You know, I understand, I think you understand what mild is and your mild could be different. So, hey, here&#039 ; s an extra bottle of hot sauce that we created or, you know, to increase your spice level and educating them that not everything in Thai cuisine is spicy. Not. That is not true. And most of the time Thai people will have either a spicy, they call it Prik Nam Pla on the table where it&#039 ; s like fresh chilies and a fish sauce or other type of chili condiments and dips that are added to a dish to create that spice level because even everyone in one household don&#039 ; t eat the same level of spice. So we can&#039 ; t handle. I don&#039 ; t eat Thai spicy. So being able to see that and having people come in and say, &quot ; You know, you have, you know, the best you know, whatever it is, the Pad Thai, the red curries, your chicken satay, your peanut sauce, that is like my crack sauce or your orange chicken.&quot ; I mean, I just being able to get to hear that and say that I fed. I fed somebody from in their womb until they&#039 ; re birthed out and they&#039 ; re eating, you know Pad Kee Mow and red curry at eighteen months. And being a part of that food education at a young age and actually, you know, we&#039 ; ve been around long enough that we&#039 ; ve been able to see the graduation of those kids and going out into the world and sharing the love of Asian flavors with their friends who&#039 ; ve never had Asian cuisine and bringing them in and turning them on to all these different flavors and cultures and wanting them to explore. I just feel very blessed and honored to be able to say, &quot ; Hey, you know, thank you for having me as a part of your food and culture. Especially the Asian side, the Thai side of your palate. And hope to continue to be a part of that throughout.&quot ; |01:43:26| Brody Well, that&#039 ; s really beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for sitting for this interview. I really appreciate it. |01:43:33| Phinyawatana Thank you. And kob kuhn ka. All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. audio Interviews may be reproduced with permission from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. 0

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“Interview with Nikky Phinyawatana, May 9, 2022,” Digging In Dallas, accessed July 12, 2024, https://diggingindallas.org/items/show/29.