It’s time to try Thai. Jonathan Leodhuvaphan, a Michigan native, has recently brought his more than 15 years of Thai cooking experience to Hettinger.
By COLE BENZ
“I grew up pretty much in the restaurant industry,” he said.
His parents emigrated from Thailand in the 1980s and worked for relatives who owned a Bankok cuisine restaurant, which was the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.
In the 1990s, his father opened the first of what would be three restaurants, and Leodhuvaphan began helping at a very young age.
At 13 he began washing dishes before managing the fryers and helping pack carryout orders. From there he started to learn the art of cooking.
He had been searching for an opportunity in his home state, but nothing was working out. So when the chance to run his own kitchen in Hettinger was made available, he took a shot at it.
“I just took a leap of faith,” he said.
The conversation started in April, but things got serious in late August when Leodhuvaphan hopped in his car and made the three-day drive from Michigan to Hettinger.
He certainly hit the ground running. After he arrived in Hettinger he spent only two days prepping before opening the doors on Saturday, Aug. 26.
“I wasn’t even ready and people were wanting to order my food,” Leodhuvaphan said.
For now he is keeping his menu simple and concise, so he can streamline the process until he gets to a point where he can hire more help.
“I just pretty much picked whatever I wanted and minimized the menu,” he said. “I kind of minimized it to what I can cut out the stuff that’s not very popular, and cut out the stuff that takes a long time to make. And I just cut it down, minimize it.”
He said he derived his selections from his experience in the various restaurants over the years, though he admits he still adjusting to what the people want.
One of the more popular dishes is the drunken noodle, while other dishes like almond and cashew chicken are gaining in popularity. And people are starting to warm up to his curry dishes too.
Leodhuvaphan said he’s learning the business side of the restaurant early on in his tenure in Hettinger. He has always worked under someone, and now he’s learning to be his own boss.
“Just being able to keep track of inventory, and sales, and all that stuff,” he said. “Just being the owner pretty much.”
Most of his ingredients are available through a food service, but he has had to make trips to Bismarck and Rapid City for certain items.
He has enjoyed his short time in Hettinger, but said he is anxious to get out in the community and get to know people and for people to get to know him. It’s the people that make his work worth doing, he said, and that’s why he has such a passion for food.
“I care about the quality of the food, I care about the presentation, I care about the taste,” he said. “I like to see the happy smiles on people’s faces when they eat my food.”
Thai House is open seven days a week 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Orders are also available for carryout.