Thai Fresh makes culture’s food ‘Thrice’ as nice

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Brandon Roberts serves coffee to Ciarra Blossom at Thrice Cafe on Wednesday afternoon. Roberts has been working at Thrice Cafe for about a year and has been in the coffee business for 7 years.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Walking into Thrice Cafe, there is an eclectic coffee shop feel — but with a twist. A hint of Thai spice wafts through the air amid the coffee aroma. The mismatched chairs and faux-grass stage create a homeliness where everyone can just pull up a chair and hang out — a sentiment owners Bruce Barnes and Jam Sanitchat said they hope their customers feel.

In its third year open, Thai Fresh grocery, cooking school and restaurant adds a new expansion and list of services to their repertoire. After monopolizing their three-part strip center, they opened Thrice Cafe in February, a beer, wine and coffee shop separate yet still connected to their expansive enterprise.

Spouses Barnes and Sanitchat opened Thai Fresh in 2009 after Sanitchat’s home-based cooking classes became too large for their kitchen. Sanitchat was only able to feasibly teach five students once a week, which became problematic as her
popularity increased.

“I thought, ‘OK, let’s just look for a space,’” Sanitchat said. “That way, I could teach more people at a time, and we could also open a deli and maybe sell groceries as well to supplement the cooking classes.”

They purchased the middle storefront in a three-part shopping center, neighbored by a coffee shop on the left and an architecture firm on the right. Although they originally did not have plans to expand, Sanitchat said they were open to the possibility should the opportunity arise.

In 2010, the architecture firm closed and the Thai Fresh enterprise expanded their Thai grocery store, restaurant and cooking class space. A year later, the coffee shop closed and again, Thai Fresh had an opportunity
to expand.

“A customer jokingly said ‘maybe you should name the third part of the building Thrice,’ and I thought it might be cool,” Sanitchat said. “I thought about it, and this is our third expansion, our third year open, and we were tripling in size — all the
number three.”

Currently, the entire space is open with two-thirds of the space devoted to Thai Fresh. The other third, which is partially isolated by a row of restrooms, is solely dedicated to Thrice. Although there is a large, open portal between the two sides, the atmosphere at Thrice is entirely its own. Eclectic, mismatched chairs and tables are spread around the stage, which the cafe uses to host live musicians nightly.

Before plans of opening Thai Fresh or Thrice were even in the works, Sanitchat earned her master’s degree in communication at UT after coming to Austin straight from her native Bangkok in 2001. While trying to decide whether or not to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey to earn her doctorate, she decided to teach cooking lessons out of her house. She also sold prepackaged Thai food on the weekends at the downtown Austin farmers market and waited tables at Hoover’s Cooking to support herself in the meantime.

Barnes, who had worked as a manager at various restaurants for roughly 20 years, was the manager at Hoover’s, where Sanitchat was waitressing.

“I fell in love with teaching the cooking classes and food, and then I fell in love with Bruce,” Sanitchat said with a laugh.

“Those were the two things that kind of kept me in Austin instead of moving away.”

While Sanitchat explained that a lot of couples who work together struggle because of the long hours together, she said that it makes her and Barnes stronger as a couple.

“I don’t know if I’m lucky or something, but I think we get along really well being business partners,” Sanitchat said. “It’s hard to make a distinction between life and business because our business is our life.”

Although the couple sees each other constantly, Sanitchat said that they do tend to miss out on certain aspects of marriage, such as going on dates. They also miss out on spending time with their five-year-old son at the same time, she said.

“We work so much that our son is usually with myself or Bruce,” Sanitchat said. “We do miss some things, and maybe we aren’t like other families, but this is our life so we kind of take it as it is.” Still, she said that the system works for her family.
In Thai Fresh and Thrice, Sanitchat infuses her recipes with the Thai traditions and spices she learned from watching her
mother cook.

“Back then in Thailand, my mom did everything so I didn’t really cook much, but I was learning,” Sanitchat said. “I’ve been watching her since I was five.”

The Thai influence can be seen throughout the menu, whether it be a chicken satay sandwich with peanut sauce or a pulled pork sandwich with Thai-style pork. Although the cooking process of the two styles of pork are fairly similar, the spices Sanitchat uses are that of traditional Thai food rather than barbecue. While some elements, such as the style of slow cooking the pork, remain true to Thai tradition, Sanitchat adds pickled cabbage and puts it on a sandwich, giving the dish a new twist.

“It’s just the kind of [food] I grew up eating and what I grew up seeing my mom make,” Sanitchat said. 

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Thai Fresh makes food 'Thrice' as nice