Thai dining dynasty takes it up a notch in Falmouth
FALMOUTH — The path leading to Orchid Thai was bordered with empty cardboard boxes and the dining room was abuzz with contractors making last-minute installations.
In less than five hours, the new restaurant would begin seating 100 guests for its opening night, but its owner was calm despite the frenzy.
Rattanaphorn Boobphachati – or Pom, as she's known – sat at an empty dining room table amid the sounds of drills and hammering, and reflected on the path that led her to open a fourth restaurant in the greater Portland area.
She began by writing out her name on a notepad, a name that translates literally to "three wishes."
"Thai people have long names," she said. "Just call me Pom."
It's a recognizable name – one that appears on two of the restaurants where she spends her busy days.
Each day begins at noon when she goes to Pom's Thai Restaurant, on Western Avenue, South Portland, for the lunch rush. Next, she goes to Pom's Thai Taste, on Congress Street, Portland. Then she works at Thai Taste on Cottage Road, South Portland, her first restaurant, which opened in 2002.
The new restaurant, at 202 U.S. Route 1, will keep her even busier, but Pom doesn't mind.
"I do what I love. Sure. One hundred percent," said the Bangkok native. "I'm lucky that people in Maine are so nice. People know Pom's."
Pom's latest venture is a departure from the established formula. The newest restaurant features a smaller menu, higher-quality ingredients and a more contemporary design.
On one end of the restaurant is a large, aquarium-like fixture, called a bubble wall, that casts a purplish glow across the dining room. On the opposite end, in a cocktail lounge that was set to open Thursday, Oct. 24, is a custom-made bar featuring LED lights that cycle through 100 different colors.
"It's never been seen in this area before," said Pom, 38.
There are other touches, too, particularly in food presentation, which include curries served in heavy, $100 brass bowls; steamed vegetables served in bamboo baskets, and edible flowers on every plate. The iced tea, for instance, will be served with ice cubes that are made from iced tea.
The new restaurant also features a slightly slimmer menu (with only 83 numbered items instead of more than 100 at its counterparts) and focuses on higher-quality ingredients, including daily specials from Portland's Harbor Fish Market and choicer cuts of meat.
The cost is "maybe 1, 2, 3 dollars more," Pom said.
The differences at the new restaurant are meant to reflect its surrounding community. It's meant to be upscale, but not intimidating, she said. Route 1 also presents a unique opportunity because there are few sit-down dining experiences at the town's commercial center.
Pom has been a restaurateur since 2000, when she and a business partner opened a place in Brunswick. She was 25 at the time, and the partnership lasted just one year. Then Pom struck out on her own and opened her flagship restaurant in South Portland.
Along the way, Pom met Sandy Atthakor, who, until recently, served as executive chef at Pom's first three restaurants. Atthakor now serves as head chef at Orchid Thai.
Atthakor, who grew up in Petchabun province, begins each workday at 5 a.m. and sometimes stays until midnight, mixing recipes after everyone else has left the restaurant. She also delivers meals to Pom and her family every morning. She also watches cooking shows from Thailand to keep up with the latest trends out of her native country, she said.
There's a simple reason for working so hard, said Atthakor, 54.
"I love my job," she said.
By 8 p.m. on opening night, the dining room had been squared away, and the staff was busy tending to customers, one of whom was Falmouth resident Hannah Small.
Small said her family has been at the opening night of each of Pom's restaurants.
"We've sort of followed her restaurant journey," said Small, 26. "We've connected with her."
Small said she immediately noticed the differences in design and ingredients, and noted the increased price.
"I have been to Thailand. I love Thai food and she has true, authentic Thai," Small said. "There are so many Thai restaurants everywhere, but there really is a difference between good quality, authentic Thai food."