Northwest Food and Drink: Seattle Dining Special Feature:
Orrapin Chancharu is well known for offering delicious Thai cuisine on top of Queen Anne since 1995. But there's more to her story, including the return of her daughter, Jan Jongkol, to the family business.
As a child in Bangkok, Orrapin loved cooking. She would follow her mother to the market, watch her cook, and ask to help. At 10, she was taking her mother's list and going to the market by herself. "She told me how to pick things out, and I would shop on the weekends," recalls Orrapin. She got her nursing degree in Thailand, but always wanted to go to America. Orrapin attended Shoreline Community College and got her business degree, married and had a daughter, Jan. "I worked for 12 years at Swedish in the bone marrow/transplant area. It's both depressing and rewarding. I started working with children when Jan was five, and it was difficult for me to see what parents were going through, so I left Swedish. Then I had to decide what I should do. One of my best childhood friends opened a Thai restaurant and I worked there part-time and thought 'this is something I can probably do.' I bought Sea-Thai restaurant, a small place with 24 seats in Wallingford in 1992, and worked with the former owner for two months. At first, his customers didn't like the changes. But the people who came in then are still my customers today."
After three years, Orrapin sold Sea-Thai Restaurant; it is still in business. She wanted to move to Queen Anne where Jan was attending John Hay Elementary. The top-of-the-hill space where Orrapin is now came available in 1995 and she leased it immediately. "It's always been the two of us, Jan and me," says Orrapin. "She has seen it all since the age of three. Restaurants can be difficult, but we both like the work."
In 2000, Orrapin opened Orrapin Noodle Experience in the space that now houses How to Cook a Wolf. She did well for three years, then staffing problems ensued. She closed it for six months, shut it for good, and reopened with a bar in 2003, the O Lounge, which she ran for two years. "We served cocktails and appetizers, and had live music. We did alright, but I wanted to stop. I chose not to renew the lease in 2005."
Banjara Cuisine of India was located on the corner of Queen Anne Ave N and Boston Street and Orrapin loved the location. When it closed, she leased the space in 2007 and opened a contemporary spot called Opal. Although just 19 or 20, Jan was part of the restaurant, helping with marketing. "I was officially starting her in the business at that time," says Orrapin. They got good reviews with their opening chef, Tyler Hefford-Anderson, who is now the executive chef at the Columbia Tower, but with the recession, Orrapin felt it was basically a five-year struggle. She closed it at the end of her lease.
Jan has worked in every position at the restaurants. "I remember standing on a milk carton to wash dishes," she laughs. "I cut vegetables, cooked and served." In 2006, she was Miss Queen Anne in the Miss Washington contest. She graduated from University Prep during which time she did a three-month study abroad program in New Zealand. While attending the University of Washington half-time, she also worked full-time, graduating in 2012. While at the UW, she went to Thailand for six months to be part of the Miss Thailand pageant. I became the face of Thai Privilege Spa, and the CEO became my mentor and taught me about the executive world, especially in foreign locations. I worked there for six months. When the recession hit, it shook both mom and me up. I decided I should find stable work in the corporate world."
Jan moved to San Francisco in 2012 and became an executive assistant for CEOs, COOs, and Senior Boards of Directors, being part of high-end meetings, listening and learning. "It should have been good, but I was actually depressed. The work didn't seem that rewarding. I knew both worlds and what the future of both could be. It reminded me that I wanted to work for myself." She returned to Seattle in late 2015 to help her mom repackage Orrapin.
"I wanted to start a bar in the overflow dining room. Remodeling began in April and Little O opened October 25, 2016. As Miss Queen Anne, my quote was 'You can't wear a catcher's mitt on both hands, you have to be able to throw something back' and in a way I feel that the bar and lounge is my way of giving back to the neighborhood and businesses that supported me by giving them a new place to convene." Orrapin says, "I like to think that on our 21st anniversary, the whole restaurant came of drinking age. I'm very happy with the bar. It feels good, like you're in a bar in a real Thai village." They've had a good reception from customers, especially those who've been to Thailand. They offer high-end spirits and Thai street food, different from the Thai cuisine and beer/wine in the dining room. "I feel we offer the best quality food at a good price. My goal has always been to make something really good that draws people back. I have a passion for food and my customers," explains Orrapin. Now Jan has created a craft cocktail spot with a different type of food-just that many more reasons for making Orrapin and Little O your home away from home!
November 2016 by Connie Adams