Thai Spice opens at Watt’s Mill

By Brad Lucht

A few years ago Pairat “Kent” Pholcharoen came to America with $120 in his pocket and a single bag that held all his possessions.  This week he is opening his fourth Thai Spice restaurant.

“I came here with nothing,” Pholcharoen explained. “I just work hard, very hard.  I work every day, no day off. Without this country, I never go this far. I owe this country a lot.”

Located in the former Café Hà Tiên location in the Watts Mill Plaza, Pholcharoen has redesigned the interior to give it a fresh, modern look.  You’ll find no clichéd images of Thailand on the walls.

Thai Spice is opening is fourth location in south Kansas City. Photo by Brad Lucht.

The food is fresh and new as well.  Pholcharoen has modified traditional Thai recipes that use difficult-to-find ingredients.  The menu captures the essence of Thai cooking while at the same time simplifying the preparation.  

The menu provides a heat option for each customer: Mild, Medium, Hot and Thai Hot.  Hot lies on the Thai spectrum between medium and hot. Thai Hot results from the Thai peppers used.  Pholcharoen warns that it is extremely hot; you’ve been warned.

Once the restaurant is running smoothly, Pholcharoen plans to offer an innovative take-out option called Stir My Way.   

A customer will visit his Stir My Way website and select a protein, four vegetables and a sauce.  Everything, including instructions, will be packed in a reusable container. At home, all you have to do is heat up a pan, throw everything in and in 6-7 minutes enjoy a fresh, home-cooked meal.

Pholcharoen plans to use the same approach to catering.  Meals will be placed in a reusable bento-style box, including silverware.  His goal is to operate his restaurant in a sustainable manner, reducing waste wherever possible.

The Path from There to Here

Pholcharoen was born in Buriram, a small farming community in northeast Thailand, not far from the Cambodian border.  His father died when Pholcharoen was young, leaving his mother to raise eight children. He remembers being sent into the forest to pick vegetables, and sometimes from his neighbor’s fence as well.  At night they would fish in the rice paddies.

The only thing Pholcharoen’s mother could write was her name; she never did have a bank account.  He knew the only way out was through education.

After primary school, most of his friends dropped out to help support their families.  Not Pholcharoen. He would ride his bicycle 20 miles back and forth through the jungle to attend high school, at times stopping at a local temple to rest.

After graduation he attended a university in Australia, obtaining a degree in Information Technology.  To help support himself while attending school he took a job at a local restaurant, washing dishes. It was a Thai restaurant.  And that is where he fell in love with cooking and the restaurant business. Even though he earned his degree, he never did work in the IT field.

Pholcharoen, far right, studied as a monk for a week in Norway recently. Photo credit Kent Pholcharoen.

Monk

It is a Thai tradition that when a parent passes away, a man in the family become a monk for the funeral.  Pholcharoen’s mother died in 2008, shortly after he opened his first restaurant. He had to rush home for the funeral, then rush back to his new business; there wasn’t time to go through the monk process.  He promised himself that one day, when everything settled down, he would become a monk for his mother. That finally happened last year. He and a friend travelled to a Thai temple in Norway, where for a week they learned to live as a monk.  The lean and fit Pholcharoen now only eats breakfast and lunch, fasting for the remaining 16 hours a day.

Thai Spice is located at 1032 W 103rd St, in the Watts Mill Plaza shopping center.  You can reach them at 816-943-0999, or find them on the web at ThaiSpiceMK.com.  They are closed Sundays.

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