The feeling of excitement was palpable when Lawan Rattana saw longtime Sala Thai customers Ralph and Tracy Chappell enter her newest restaurant, Gin Thai Fusion.
Rattana owns three metro-area Thai venues — the venerable Sala Thai at 1614 NW 23rd St., Taste of Thai at 1801 S. Air Depot Blvd. and her Edmond expansion Gin Thai Fusion at 1333 N. Santa Fe Ave., Suite 123.
The Chappells are the kind of patrons most restaurant owners dream of, visiting Sala Thai four or five times a week. That’s partially a testament to the food, but also the family-like bond Rattana forms with guests.
“If he’s not working, we go to Sala Thai,” Tracy said. “But we’ve been wanting to try Gin Thai.”
While the owner is the same, the concepts are different. Sala Thai has the relaxed, lived-in feel of an establishment that has built decades of loyalty with its fans.
Gin Thai Fusion is Rattana’s love letter to the regions of Thailand.
“We would like to educate our customers about the real Thai food,” she said. “We have four regions in Thailand. Each region has its own unique tastes.”
While her older guests love the mélange of Thai influences at her other eateries, Rattana focused Gin’s menu on showing younger customers the distinct palates of each region.
Gin is the Thai word for “eat,” and she hopes diners will use their eyes as well as their mouths at her new venue. The presentation is stepped up a notch, as in the northern favorite Chicken Cashew Nut, which is served in a hollowed-out pineapple bowl.
The Sunny Pork appetizer pairs a crispy rice flour exterior with tender slices of pork dipped in a sweet tamarind sauce. The flavors will be familiar to Thai food lovers, but the restaurant’s atmosphere and how dishes are displayed are new experiences.
Rattana’s career is a case study in new experiences, though. Decades ago, she started in the business with a New York City Thai eatery called King and I. Over the years, she moved on to Connecticut and Rhode Island before relocating to Oklahoma City.
Bringing Gin Thai Fusion to Edmond is about accommodating Oklahoma City regulars who didn’t want to drive so far to get the food they love.
And love is a common emotion around Rattana. She said she has raised a family of cooks and servers over the years who have become important to her.
“Operating restaurants is the business that runs with love and care,” she said. “You must have love and enjoyment to operate.”
Customers like the Chappells are happy to support her restaurants, often coming in with friends or large family groups around the holidays.
“We like to take care of our customers, just as a good housewife takes care of the husband and children,” Rattana said. “We want our customers to have the feeling of eating at home.”
Print headline: Family Thais, Lawan Rattana runs her trio of restaurants by treating staff and customers as family.