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Meet Vanda Asapahu of Ayara Thai in Westchester and LAX

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vanda Asapahu.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Vanda. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am the founder and owner of Ayara Thai Sauces, and chef and co-owner of my family’s restaurant Ayara Thai in Los Angeles. I was born in Thailand to food loving self-taught chefs/entrepreneurs and moved to Los Angeles with my family when I was 5-years old. I learned how to cook by helping my parents’ after-school with their catering business – grilling meat and preparing sauces – before doing my homework.

I received my undergraduate degree in International Development Studies at UCLA. And my master’s degree in Public Health at Yale University. I worked on humanitarian aid and reproductive health/rights with nonprofits and the United Nations in Thailand for four years. Living in Thailand allowed me to revive old family recipes and travel through the different regions to discover new tastes and inspirations. After cooking with relatives and eating my way through the streets and countryside, it is these old recipes and new flavors that I bring back to share at Ayara Thai.

Has it been a smooth road?
Struggles of the restaurant:

– Legal Issues: When I left my work with the UN to come home in 2010, I walked into a legal mess. My parents ran our family’s restaurant like a mom and pop the best way they knew how, with little help – mom cooked and paid the bills and dad shopped for supplies and filed taxes — and in its sixth year it needed more to remain viable. We were under investigation by the Department of Labor for wage violation. We were audited by the State Board of Equalization for the reporting of sales tax.

– Renovation/Expansion: My family and I had the opportunity to own the building we’re in and the unit next door. And have begun renovation/expansion plans since 2013. Four years later, we have yet to see the plans come to fruition. Limiting factors have included city plans and permits, and financing. This has heightened stress and created tensions between family members.

– Finding Chefs: Like many restaurants in the US, we struggle with finding line chefs. This has limited our growth potential and has forced many family members (including myself) to wear many hats, including line chef.

As for Ayara Thai Sauces, we are struggling to extend shelf life while staying true our goal of being preservative free.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I am proud to serve genuine home-cooked Thai food and bottle honest Thai flavors where quality is never compromised. I am proud that we use fresh seasonal ingredients. Each dish is prepared from scratch and enhanced individually by herbs and spices to ensure the boldest, truest Thai flavors. I am humble that our restaurant has been recognized as one of Los Angeles top Thai restaurant, while staying true to who we are and what we do without giving in to trends and fads. I am proud that we employ almost 50 people with living wages. More than half have worked with us for over 4-years. All are like extended family members.

What is your proudest moment? Earlier this year we opened Ayara Lūk, a pop-up Thai eatery and a culinary project of Ayara Thai. While this pop-up will ensure that the restaurant team gets to keep working during construction/closure/renovation of the current Ayara Thai — it has allowed my siblings and I to serve dishes inspired by our experience as first generation Thai-Americans and push the boundaries of what people expect from Thai food in our notoriously chain heavy neighborhood. I am proud to work alongside my siblings, creating dishes inspired by our experiences.

In Thai, ‘lūk’ means child. Our goal is to adopt our parents’ recipes and expand on it with dishes inspired by our experiences as first generation Thai-Americans. Our changing menu is small and curated to feature favorites from Ayara Thai, our take on classic Thai dishes, and environmentally-conscious ingredients. To us, these changes mean infusing our contemporary values with the Thai culinary heritage that we have inherited from our parents.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Ayara Thai
    6245 West 87th Street
    Los Angeles CA 90045
    Ayara Lūk
    8740 South Sepulveda Blvd, Unit #140
    Los Angels CA 90045
  • Website: www.ayarathaicuisine.com / www.ayaraluk.com / www.ayaraproducts.com
  • Phone: (310) 410-8848
  • Email: info@ayarathaicuisine.com
  • Instagram: @ayarathai
  • Facebook: /ayarathaicuisine
  • Twitter: @ayarathai
  • Yelp: ayara thai cuisine / ayara luk

Image Credit:
Photo of self was taken by Steven Lam for CPAP Gala. Photo of Vanda and my mother was taken by Tara Redfield for New School of Cooking.

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