Restaurateur Hattaporn Wattanarat got her culinary experience wandering through the markets in northeastern Thailand as a child, shopping for fresh ingredients with her mother. They didn’t have a refrigerator at home, so they always needed fresh ingredients to cook with. “I learned from my mother,” she says.
Now, she is the co-owner of her own restaurant Hattapon’s Thai Kitchen on Main Street in Greenfield, a mainstay establishment, a popular spot where people can get no-frills dish of pad Thai at an affordable price. “It’s just a nice place where people could get a good Thai meal. It’s just good food,” says her business partner Beth Greeney.
Wattanarat opened the business after years of working in area restaurants as a cook, saving up at minimum-wage jobs to open up a hole-in-the-wall location with no seating so she could build up a clientele before moving to the larger storefront. “She started really small, so it wasn’t a huge investment,” says Greeney. “It was very doable.”
The best education on how to operate a business she got while working for other people as a cook after coming to the United States at age 38 in 1998 to learn English. At that time, she had no idea that she wanted to be in the restaurant business and fell into it.
After a few years working in the kitchen at a Thai restaurant in Amherst, she realized she wanted to work for herself. “If you want to start your own business, just go work for other people and try to learn as much as you can so you will know if you like it or you don’t like it,” she says.
It’s not uncommon for her to work 12-hour days, but she says it’s worth it. She loves the food, values the community that the restaurant creates, and appreciates the flexibility to go on long vacations to visit Thailand during cold winter months in New England.
At times the partners have struggled, but they’ve always found ways to keep their business alive, including selling dishes at events, like the Green River Festival in Greenfield, and local farmers markets. “The festivals have sustained the restaurant, honestly,” says Greeney.
Their advice to other prospective restaurateurs: Temper your expectations. You won’t have much free time, and you’ll likely have to make sacrifices in your personal life. A fat paycheck probably isn’t in your future if you decide to go down this path. Many restaurants fail, says Greeney: “People want to get rich quick … You are not going to get rich in this business.”
For Wattanarat, part of the payoff is simply the pleasure she gets from doing what she loves. “I just think cooking is fun. I don’t have to be rich,” she says. “I’m happy because I can do what I want.”