For the fifth year in a row, Nisa’s Thai Kitchen has received an award for being the best Thai restaurant in Clatsop County. This small restaurant, located near the Warrenton Marina, has earned a great reputation within the community and beyond. The customer base has grown regularly since the restaurant opened in February 2014. Numerous people make Nisa’s Thai Kitchen the place to stop year after year when visiting the area.
The owners, Bill and Nisa Blackler, say that the key to the success is consistency. They offer recipes that are standard Thai fare and familiar to many Thai food customers. Nisa takes exceptional pride in each plate that leaves the kitchen. She occasionally rearranges the food coming out of the kitchen, perfecting the plate before it reaches the customer. She is involved in each step to make the meals, making sure they are fresh, and the flavors are just like they would be in the country of her origin.
Nisa is known to be a very quiet person with a charming smile. She pours out her heart to serve the community with delicious food and the best reward for her is to have happy customers. She treats her employees and customers like one big family. This is part of her own culture that she brings to the Pacific Northwest. Thailand is known for its warm smiles and tight family connections where people take care of each other. With the restaurant, Nisa has gained a new extended family since her own Thai family lives far away in South East Asia.
Nisa was born and raised in a city called Samutprakarn Province, located at the junction of the Chao Phraya River and the Gulf of Thailand. The city, known for its natural beauty and rich cultural history, is only 20 minutes from the cosmopolitan city, Bangkok. Nisa grew up with her mother, father, three brothers, and two sisters. She was the oldest girl and her responsibility was to help her mother with cooking since the age of ten. One dish that Nisa learned to make well was red curry, because it was easy to make enough for the entire family. Still today, her favorite dish is coconut curry.
Bill, who has been eating various kinds of authentic curries during his business travels to Asian countries during the past 25 years, says that his wife’s curries are simply the best.
A Perfect Match
Nisa and Bill met in Thailand in 2011, through an online dating site. They were both looking for company with a certain goal in mind; Nisa was looking for an opportunity to learn better English skills with someone, and Bill was looking for someone who would show him the country while traveling for work. It was the perfect match for them both. They both admit that it was not love at first sight, but they quickly felt comfortable with each other and kept in touch while Bill was back in the USA. They traveled between the countries a few times before he brought an engagement ring to propose to Nisa in December 2011. She later moved to Bill’s hometown, Warrenton, and the couple got married in June 2013.
At the time they met, Nisa was working as a head accountant in a factory of agro-chemicals in Bangkok. She learned good managing skills overseeing the seven other accountants working under her. She had gone to school for accounting, and she holds a Bachelor’s degree in it.
Soon after moving to America, Nisa was looking for an employment opportunity, but all she was offered was to make beds in a local motel. This was upsetting her husband, because he knew how capable Nisa was for more, but there were not many options available. Her English was not yet strong enough and may have been an obstacle to find work in her profession. Nisa was determined to find something to do, so she started to volunteer at Blue Ocean Thai restaurant in Astoria, offering help anywhere help was needed.
The Idea of Own Restaurant is Born
Nisa was comfortable in a kitchen and continued cooking delicious Thai dishes at home. Soon Bill noticed that his friends started to show up always around dinner time, and they kept praising Nisa’s meals. This was when the idea of their very own Thai restaurant was born.
They first thought to purchase a food cart but couldn’t find one in their price range. Around the same time, they talked with Kim Fuhrmann, the owner of the Kim’s Kitchen, about the possibility to lease her Korean restaurant near the Skipanon River. When all the details eventually fell in places, the Blacklers first leased, and then later purchased the restaurant which had everything needed to start the business. Some remodeling was needed, such as transforming the Korean kitchen to a Thai kitchen. Bill’s background in machinery and mechanics in food industry came into use. He was mostly challenged to improve and design the small space to operate as well as possible. Today, he is still amazed how efficient the kitchen is, without adding any square footage to the area.
Bill and Nisa did not have any previous experience of restaurant business, but they both shared many years of experience and knowledge in sales, business managing, and accounting. When helping at the Blue Ocean Thai Restaurant, Nisa gained valuable skills of food preparation in the restaurant’s kitchen and became familiar with many different recipes. That was when she became friends with Chanaphon Lindquist, or “Mom” as many know her. Mom was the key person to help Nisa’s Thai Kitchen to get started. First hired as a consultant, she was helping with the menu, and organizing everyday operations. Bill calls her a “Secret Sauce,” because without her they would not be where they are today.
“Without a good Thai chef, you do not have business in Thai restaurant business,” says Bill. He also praises all the other employees, and their part of making the Nisa’s Thai Kitchen successful. “We have fantastic team members working with us, bottom line.”
Working as a self-employed consultant, Bill still travels about 25% of his time for business. Currently, most of his travel is to American Samoa, Texas and New York State. When he is home, he can be found helping out at the restaurant, sometimes sweeping the floors or polishing silverware after the business hours. That is also when this hard-working couple can have some time together. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, and Nisa still finds herself doing bookkeeping, some shopping, or thinking of some recipes on her day off. Her most relaxing time is when she is able to talk to her 6-month-old nephew to Thailand via Skype.
Thai cuisine is one of the most popular ethnic food in today’s world. It is said to balance all four main tastes; sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The Thai cuisine pays attention to detail, texture, color and taste using flavorful and even medically beneficial ingredients.
Nisa says that there are variations in recipes in different parts of Thailand. The south is known for more spicy dishes. The central area, and especially Bangkok cuisine, is called “Food of the Kings”, because that is the area where the Royals also dine.
People in Thailand eat spices regularly and there are no star-charts explaining the spiciness level. Those charts are made for foreigners. At Nisa’s Thai Kitchen, some customers order the “Thai hot,” which means about 4-5 stars. Sometimes Nisa goes to check on these customers to make sure they are fine. Nisa herself, likes spicy food, but prefers two-star meals, to be able to really enjoy all the flavors in the dishes.
Nisa’s restaurant offers a very standard Thai restaurant menu with some exceptions of occasional specials. The most popular dishes are Drunken Noodle, Pad Thai, the curries, and the Flaming Beef, which comes to the table on fire and always gets a surprised reaction from the customers. There is no separate children’s menu offered, but many have found the Chicken Satay, grilled chicken tenders on skewers, a very pleasing option for their younger ones.
Rice for Breakfast and Dessert
Thailand’s food culture differs quite vastly from Western countries. After living in America for seven years, Nisa still prefers eating the way she did back in her home country. Her diet does not include any bread, cheese, or snack foods that are common in America. Rice is a staple in mostly every meal, including breakfast and dessert. Nisa’s favorite breakfast is rice soup, which includes meat and eggs. Lunches and dinners are often the same, in variety of rice or noodles, vegetables and meat. A very popular dessert is mango rice or fried bananas served with ice cream.
Making authentic Thai dishes in the United States has become easier in recent years since the Thai food cuisine has become more popular. Now, all the needed ingredients used at Nisa’s Thai Kitchen can be found from distributors. Many Thai food products are produced in places like Hawaii and Florida where the climate is similar to Thailand. There are still some things, such as Nisa’s favorite fruit called durian, that aren’t easily available.
Nisa and Bill like to travel back to Thailand regularly. For the past few years, they have been taking a sabbatical at the end of December through January, closing the restaurant for three weeks. Besides giving their team members time off, it allows the Blacklers to travel, either to Nisa’s home country, or to other sunny and warm places like Puerto Rico, Arizona, or California. From all her travels, Nisa always picks up some new ideas or some decorations to bring back to her restaurant, to make the place even more comfortable for the customers, whom she also calls her own family.
Nisa’s Thai Kitchen is located at 575 East Harbor Street in Warrenton. The restaurant hours are 11AM-8PM daily (closed on Tuesdays), and weekends 12PM – 8PM. In summer time the restaurant is open until 9PM.