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The family that satays together

Minh Tran, son of the founders of Sawatdy Thai Cuisine, opened his own Thai restaurant, Sawan Thai Kitchen, on Feb. 1 at Lynwood Center near Walt’s.  - JULIE BUSCH photo
Minh Tran, son of the founders of Sawatdy Thai Cuisine, opened his own Thai restaurant, Sawan Thai Kitchen, on Feb. 1 at Lynwood Center near Walt’s.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Sawan Thai opens at Lynwood Center, an offspring of the

popular Sawatdy.

Few restaurants open to busy nights.

But Sawan Thai Kitchen has an island lineage others don’t enjoy.

Sawan Thai Kitchen, which opened this month at Lynwood Center, comes from the same cooking tradition as the popular Sawatdy Thai Cuisine at Island Center. That’s not surprising as the entrepreneur is San and Lani Tran’s son, 35-year-old Minh Tran.

Tran says his aim is not to take away from Sawatdy, but to capture the customers who frequently can’t get into Sawatdy many nights, and “keep the overflow in the family.”

“Sawatdy has been great for the community for many years, and I don’t want to take away from that,” Tran said.

Sawatdy Thai Cuisine, was opened by Tran’s parents 13 years ago, has become one of the favorite restaurants among Bainbridge Islanders. Tables are hard to come by most evenings and certainly on weekends.

Tran’s parents recently retired and handed over the management of Sawatdy to his sister Quyen. Another sister runs the Thai restaurant Aroydy in Poulsbo.

Growing up the the island, Minh Tran and his eight siblings all helped out their parents at Sawatdy. The family escaped from conflict in Laos in 1976 and arrived on the island by way of Thailand under the sponsorship of a local church.

Sawatdy’s success was the fruit of the hard-working family’s labor. Minh did bookkeeping, picked up groceries, served and even learned to cook.

Mom and dad offered to help Minh get Sawan Thai off the ground, but he wanted to take on the venture by himself. Still, family is not far away. An uncle and some brothers are on staff and mom’s recipes are in the kitchen.

“When you open a restaurant, you have to have a family to support you,” Tran said. “When you have family, it’s the trust and commitment that’s important.”

With his math degree from the University of Washington and electrical engineering degree from Seattle University, becoming a restauranteur may not have seemed a likely occupation, but Minh said he enjoyed working with his family at Sawatdy so much, he decided to challenge himself by starting a restaurant.

What’s the payoff?

“When you see people walk out happy, it gives you a good feeling about the work you’ve done,” Tran said. “That’s the reason I stuck with the restaurant for many years.

“Most people know (Sawan) is related to Sawatdy and it’s nice to see the old faces from Sawatdy. Hopefully, we can get the new ones, too.”

The cuisine at Sawan Thai is similar to Sawatdy, but Tran has added tempura prawns, duck, pork chops and Bangkok chicken – batter-fried with a honey glaze – to Sawan’s offerings.

Sawan’s chef, Lek Sudchaitham, was coached in the Tran family cooking style, which Tran’s mother created by mixing Vietnamese elements – his father’s heritage – with Thai flavors.

Tran believes it’s that blend that makes his mother’s cooking so popular.

His personal favorites are the pad thai and garlic chicken, a stir fry with steamed vegetables on the side.

Tran said he had a few worries about how the island crowd would react to another Thai restaurant, but so far “the island has responded well and I’m grateful for that.”

“Working on the island, people are more close. Everyone knows each other. I’ve done very little advertising so far,” Tran said. “It only takes a few to spread the word that there’s another restaurant on the island.

“Sawatdy will always be the island’s favorite. Hopefully, they can make this restaurant the second favorite.”

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Family Thais

Sawan Thai Kitchen is located in Lynwood Center at 4765 Lynwood Center Road near Walt’s. The restaurant is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; for dinner from 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; and closed on Monday. To make a reservation or for more information, call 842-5345.

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