Hong Kong-born Anthony Kwan says he is the only thing that isn’t authentically Thai in his recently opened restaurant.
“We get most of our supplies from Thailand and our chef was trained in the Meridien Hotel in Bangkok,” Kwan said on Tuesday.
Kootenay Thai Restaurant opened in the Hacienda Inn in February and business has been better than the owner anticipated.
“Word of mouth has spread the news about our restaurant very quickly,” he said.
While he isn’t from Thailand, most of Kwan’s restaurant experience in Vancouver was at Thai-style restaurants. He managed Sala Thai on Burrard Street for six years before owning and operating the award-winning Montri’s Thai Cuisine.
“We won an award for being Vancouver’s best Thai restaurant for 10 years in a row” he said.
When his West Broadway lease expired late last year, Kwan decided it was time for a change. He visited a friend who owns the May May Chinese Restaurant in Cranbrook — “I had to Google to find out where Cranbrook was!” he said — and took a liking to the Kootenays. After travelling to Asia, Kwan signed a lease on the Hacienda Inn restaurant space and opened for business six days later.
Kwan has a degree in computer science and mathematics from Simon Fraser University but he says he is much happier in the restaurant business.
“I don’t want to sit in front of a computer all day,” he laughed. “I like being around people much more.”
The owner runs the front of the business, seating guests and chatting to ensure they are happy with the food and service. In the kitchen, chef Udorn Suri uses the skills he learned in his native Thailand to create authentic Thai cuisine.
“Some people think Thai food is really hot, but it doesn’t have to be,” Kwan said. “We adjust the heat according to what customers want. Thai food relies on freshness and has complex flavours. Nearly all our dishes can be made for vegetarians and we can accommodate dietary requirements for most people.”
In Vancouver, the pla lard prig was his signature dish. Ocean perch, deep-fried and served whole with a “three-flavour” sauce and vegetables, makes a spectacular impression on patrons.
In Creston, the hot and sour soup has proved popular, along with green and red curry dishes, and many guests have vowed to try everything on the menu in subsequent visits. Kwan said a dessert of deep-fried bananas and ice cream is the perfect way to end the meal.
“My goal is to bring authentic Thai food to Creston and the Kootenays. It isn’t just about making money — I could do that by staying in Vancouver.”
He points out the restaurant windows, which afford a view to the south and west, and says he couldn’t be happier with his new location.
“I plan to stay here at least six years,” he smiled. “There was no point to moving everything out here just go back to Vancouver in a short time.”
His sister owns two restaurants in Ontario, and while he misses his mother, father and brother, who all live in Vancouver, Kwan said he was ready for a change.
Although his life experience is mostly in cities, Kwan has quickly adapted to small-town life.
“I treat my customers like friends,” he said, adding that he’s received a number of gifts, including fresh-caught fish and “a big chicken” from appreciative guests. “People in Creston are really nice.”
He has also enjoyed shopping locally, both for the restaurant and his new home.
“I always think about the long term,” he said. “When I support local business people I know they will support me, too.
Kootenay Thai Restaurant is open for dinner daily from 4-9 p.m. and weekdays for lunch from 11:30-2 p.m. A new lunch menu will be available next week. Kwan hopes to have his liquor licence in place next month, at which point he will open the lounge adjacent to the restaurant.
“We will do lots of special things in the lounge,” he said.
Live music, karaoke, fight nights, golf nights and other special events will appeal to a variety of customers.
“This is definitely something new for Creston,” he said. “But I want to make all of the Kootenays happy!”