'Moon' Krapugthong: A local chef in constant bloom
Main Street Manayunk is about as far away from an orchid farm in a suburb of Bangkok as you can get, but weaving seemingly unrelated elements together is what Nongyao Krapugthong does best.
And, her newest restaurant, Yanako, at 4255 Main Street, will be her third. Mango Moon closed last year, but Chabaa-Thai Bistro remains as a Manayunk Main Street staple. The menu at Yanako will highlight the sushi skills of Chef Haruo Ige as well as offer authentic rustic Asian dishes.
As a little girl in Thailand, "Moon," as she is called by friends and colleagues here, saw her father work hard on an orchid farm.
Krapugthong says, "I never pictured myself cooking for a living, because it would be such hard work. I saw my parents work very hard while I was growing up."
When she came to the States, she first earned a degree in economics, but later her artistic side called and she studied art.
Cooking came as part of being cash-poor students while she and her husband worked on their graduate degrees. Dining out was too expensive so she learned to cook. Their friends and fellow students that sat at her table told her this is what she should be doing.
Food became her artistic medium, a way to convey her message. Her degree in economics was the tool to make restaurants her palette bringing the artistic side and the commercial side together.
Although the orchid farm of her childhood is a memory, she's never far from a flower – her restaurant Chabba Thai is named after the hibiscus and Yanako is a flower that symbolizes the perfect woman.
While Krapugthong would be the last to give that status to herself, there are many in the community who might put that 'perfect woman' label on her. She also lives in Manayunk and is raising her daughter there, so she is a strong advocate for merging business needs with quality of life concerns for residents.
Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, says "Moon was one of the first to look at the bike race and ask how can we make money but also be responsible to the people that live here. She helped everyone see we can tone the party atmosphere but still emphasize the sport."
Lipton says Krapugthong's philanthropic efforts not only benefit the local community, but also extends to her global neighborhood. Last year, she helped initiate an event to raise money for children in a Thai orphanage to learn trade skills.
As Krapugthong's restaurants get into full swing, there's one more element of her life coming together. Just as she once watched her parents work hard in the orchid field, her daughter now hangs out in the restaurant with her. It may be different flowers, but the commitment to hard work is still in bloom.