‘I want them to feel like home’: Award-winning restaurant owner brings a taste of Thailand to Philadelphia – KYW

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Chatatip “Nok” Suntaranon is the award-winning owner of the Fishtown restaurant Kalaya.

The restaurant pays tribute to her mother and brings the recipes from her hometown of Trang in South Thailand to Philadelphia.

“The restaurant — I named after my mother to be the place that people will know about Thai food, about our culture, and that’s the goal,” Suntaranon said.

Her passion for food earned her the 2023 James Beard Award for Best Mid-Atlantic Chef.

Kalaya has also received top honors as Esquire’s Best New Restaurant in America and as one of the nation’s best by Food & Wine magazine in 2020.

But all of the recognition and awards do not faze Suntaranon, who has a pressing wish for her family back in Thailand to experience her restaurant in person, as they have been unable to travel to the United States.

“Until now, none of my family members or my mother know how big this is in America,” she said with laughter.

Suntaranon drew culinary inspiration not only from her mother and her Thai roots, but also through her travels around the world as a flight attendant.

She opened Kalaya in South Philadelphia in 2019 then relocated her restaurant to a larger space in Fishtown in late 2022.

But no matter how large her restaurant, customer base, or the growing list of awards, Suntaranon is determined to stay true to her mission.

“The service, how we welcome people … I want them to feel like home. I want them to feel like when you open the door to Kalaya, you come and see me as a guest, not as a customer. That’s what I want,” she said.

Photo credit KYW Newsradio

Throughout Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, KYW Newsradio is celebrating the contributions of these diverse and essential communities with an audio series called “Asian Americans Making Their Mark.”

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