By Nancy Tannler
3272 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
The United States is truly a melting pot of different people. We have become familiar with the face of the different nationalities that make this country home, and still some origins remain a mystery to many of us. Fortunately here in Portland we can at least experience the exotic flavors of these faraway worlds in our restaurants. No place is this more true than at the newly opened Saké Izakaya By Thai Orchid located at 3272 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
The owners, Na and Penny (Prapapen) Saenguraiporn, both came to the US to attend the College of Las Vegas, Nevada. Na is Chinese Thai and was raised in Bangkok, Penny came from Udon in northern Thailand. During their years in college, they worked full time while going to school. They married in 1978 and started a family. Upon graduation, Na used his civil engineering degree to land a job at a firm in Las Vegas.
They stayed three more years before the allure of the northwest and a job opportunity brought the family here. Na worked in a Beaverton firm as an engineer until the day Penny convinced him to start a restaurant with her.
“The only experience I had in a restaurant was as a bus boy during college,” Na said. This was back before very many people had the idea of opening a Thai restaurant. Eventually, he decided to change careers and enter into the restaurant business, a surprise to himself and his colleagues.
They opened their first Thai Orchid Restaurant in Portland on West Burnside in 1992. Instead of trying to second guess what their customers might like on the menu, they decided to serve just what they ate.
“We like the food we have always eaten,“ Na said. This includes some of the finest quick fix street food dishes as well as more traditional and complex recipes. Penny is a masterful chef and was able to blend her culinary instincts with the flavors of her Asian heritage to come up with a consistently good, healthy, fresh and flavorful menu. It didn’t take long before the word got out that this was good Thai food.
One of the keys to their success when they decided to open more Thai Orchids was to use Penny’s recipes at all of the restaurants. The consistency made a difference. Diners knew they would get the same delicious Makimon (drunken noodles) each and every time and at any location.
They offered over 50 dishes, many with a choice of meat, vegetarian and vegan options. Quinoa can be substituted for rice upon request. The various levels of spice meet the tastes of the northwest palate while maintaining authenticity. Fresh ingredients make the food healthy and they use high quality vegetable oil and no MSG.
By 2002 there were nine Thai Orchid Restaurants in the Portland metro area. Their serendipitous meeting at college plus their sense of adventure, talent and work ethic empowered them to take the risks and make the sacrifices to build a successful business and provide opportunities for other along the way.
In 2005 they realized they had done enough, it was time to slow down a little and they decided to downsize. Their niece bought their Vancouver location and one by one they sold the rest except the Barbur Blvd. location and the most recently acquired Saké By Thai Orchid on Hawthorne.
The previous owners at this location and a personal friend to the Saenguraiporns served Thai and Japanese food, so when they first opened, the plan was to do the Thai Orchid menu. Popular demand by the public for sushi and ramen had Penny and Na rethink this decision. Their niece in Vancouver served sushi and Thai so they decided they would do that here too.
“Since this is a smaller location, the menu will be more abbreviated to include the sushi and ramen,” Na said, “It will be fresh,well-prepared and our customer’s favorites.” Now Thai Orchid diners can enjoy the exotic taste of the Orient.