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Sandy Buakhieo of Thai Bistro says that the restaurant business is challenging because, among other things, you never know how many customers are going to come through the door. - Jim Craven

HomeGrown: Thai Bistro's recipe for success? Hard work

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it? We cook Thai food and we will be open nine years on July 29. I had a janitorial business for 14 years here before opening the restaurant.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I moved here 24 years ago from the Bay Area and I'm originally from Michigan.

What inspired you to go into this line of work? I had never had Thai food before. I started out with a Thai partner who had a bistro in Central Point several years ago. The food was so flavorful and it made you want to come back. He closed it up and moved back to Thailand to take his son to meet his family. He came back here nine years ago and wanted to open a restaurant. Ten weeks after we opened, he decided to move to Denver to open a restaurant. At that time I didn't really have experience in restaurants.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? Knowing more than I know now. There are a lot of ways I would have set up the restaurant physically. The way we're set up, there is a lot of wasted space. In the kitchen, having more woks and a bigger (exhaust) hood so we could have more manpower back there at one time. But the costs are so high to redo it.

What's the toughest business decision you've made? Going into the restaurant was a tough decision because it's very costly to open. I had a janitorial service before that and the difference in costs was crazy. You're buying food and supplies every day, a cost going out every single day. You never know how many customers are going to walk in every day, compared to a business that you have a set of customers. It might be a week or two before the customer comes back again.

Who are your competitors? The other Thai and Chinese restaurants. There are at least seven Thai restaurants between Central Point and Ashland.

What are your goals? To be able to put out the best product and give customers what they want. We do a lot of speciality orders. I've had customers ask me if I was going to open another restaurant. I haven't thought about it because it costs so much. I'm very picky about my quality of food that I use and it would be difficult to work at more than one place. I have a lot of people who stayed with me a long time. I have had more staff in the past and we cut back a little and it seems to be smoother with not so many people running into each other.

What training or education did you need? I didn't have any in the restaurant field. For somebody else going in, I'd advise them to get some of that. I've had a lot more ups and downs as the years go along. I'm here every day, morning to night, six days a week. I do my own books and payroll. I had an accountant train me to do payroll, turned out it wasn't that difficult. I found it was less costly to do it myself. I do have a Thai chef and a Thai woman who does appetizers and prep work for the speciality items. It's pretty hard to find Thai cooks in the valley, so we've trained a couple fellows in the past year and I've learned to cook Thai food so I could fill in when things got busy.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? They have to be willing to put 150 percent into what they want to do. Sometimes you are going to be down and you have to be tough and keep going. Have a positive attitude through the rough times that you're going to make it. It would help to really evaluate and know a lot about what they are going to do.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com

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