To study in America is the dream of many young people in Thailand. But not many make that dream come true.
Fang Tuckawarut is one of the lucky ones, as she sees it.
“Thailand is seen by many as a poor country,” said the 27-year-old Thailand native. “For Thai people, they see the States as the country that has the best education in the world.”
And that’s why Tuckawarut came to the United State about five years ago. She already had an undergraduate degree in agricultural business but sought a master’s degree in business management. She researched programs and found that Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon, had an international students program. With limited English and not knowing anyone in the U.S., she headed after her dream.
And now she’s the owner-chef of Rimnam, a popular Thai restaurant in Bremerton.
But it hasn’t been an easy route.
While in school in Eugene, she worked full time in a Thai restaurant and studied on the weekends. After graduating in December 2011, she opted to come to Seattle, where she hoped to find a job in business, but not the restaurant business.
“I wanted to try the office thing,” she said. “But after awhile, I knew it was wrong. Cooking is my passion, so I decided to open my own restaurant.”
She chose Bremerton because she found the people here to be friendly.
“Once I came here, I felt peace,” she said of the area.
She opened Rimnam in an existing restaurant location in Manette and was doing well. But she wanted to have a place that was hers — from the decorations right down to the tables and chairs. So she moved Rimnam to the old Bay Theater at 2313 Wheaton Way.
“The decorations are from Thailand,” she said. “And I picked out the tables and chairs and all the equipment in the kitchen.”
She opened at her current location in April of this year. She serves a full menu of Thai cuisine and many of the dishes are made from old family recipes.
“My parents has a restaurant in Thailand,” she said. “And before that, they had a noodle factory. I grew up in the business and I’ve carried over the family recipes.”
Favorites of her customers are the Tasty Cashew stir fry, the Panang Curry which is served with potatoes, green beans, bell peppers, carrots and Thai basil, and Phad Thai, a noodle dish with egg, bean sprouts, green onion and garnished with ground peanuts.
Everything she uses is fresh.
“Many places use the cheapest ingredients that can,” she said. “I always use fresh. We want quality foods that are fresh, tasty and healthy.”
Almost anything on the menu can be made for people with special dietary concerns. She offers gluten free meals and vegetarian cuisine. She alway uses 100 percent Jasmine rice.
And there’s always a daily special. Right now she’s working on a new item — a Thai Wrap, which will include Thai rice and homemade peanut sauce in a wrap made of fried rice and green curry paste.
On the specialty menu, the Rimnam Avocado Green Curry is a favorite. While avocados are something that wouldn’t be served in Thailand, she knows in the U.S. they are a favorite.
“Some of the specials are combinations of the family recipes and local items,” she said. “I like to combine things and create fusion in the food.”
If overcoming the odds of coming to the U.S. to study and then opening a restaurant on her own wasn’t enough, Tuckawarut is currently overcoming another American odd — road construction.
Right after she relocated to lower Wheaton Way, a major street project began in front of her place and ever since, her business has been limited due to construction.
“It’s hurt our business,” she said. “I’ve had to layoff employees because there wasn’t the business and they weren’t making enough tips.”
Construction was supposed to be finished last month, but because it wasn’t completed before the cold weather, some of it won’t be done until next spring, she has been told.
But she’s not about to give up.
“Restaurant work is hard,” she said. “For me, I’m the owner and business manager, and the head chef. It can be exhausting. But when I see the smiles on customers’ faces, and when they tell me the food is wonderful, it makes it all worth it.”
And there’s her 20-year-old twin sisters back in Thailand. She’s working to be able to help them get through college.
“In Thailand, that’s what family does,” she said. “When my parents could no longer care for me, my aunt took me in. It’s just in our nature.”
As for Thai food, she wants people to know it’s not all spicy.
“It’s very healthy and I guess I’d just ask those who haven’t, to give it a try,” she said. “Any when you come here, tell us if it’s your first time. We’ll help you order.”
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
She offers catering, gift certificates and has a meeting or party room that will hold up to 20.
The address is 2313 Wheaton Way, Bremerton, or phone 360-627-8628. Check out the menu at www.facebook.com/rimnamthaicusine.