Opening a restaurant is always a long process. But the chain of events that led to the opening of one Boulder restaurant and the realization of a lifelong dream spanned two continents and intertwined the fates of two women in a way neither of them could have foreseen.
Ratiya Edfors and Pranom Kiatreungwattana, co-owners of Naraya Thai and Sushi — which celebrated its grand opening this past weekend — both originally hail from Thailand. Edfors is originally from northern Thailand, Kiatreungwattana from an area just outside of the capital city of Bangkok. In 1995, both women moved to the U.S., but to opposite ends of the country.
Kiatreungwattana had gotten her undergraduate degree in Thailand but wanted to come to the U.S. to get her MBA. She decided to attend the University of Colorado and moved to Boulder, and except for a brief two-year period when she returned to Thailand to get married, she has been in Colorado ever since.
“I love the Flatirons,” she says. “I applied to 10 universities, but then I saw a picture of the Flatirons and I decided to go to CU.”
Boulder’s scenic beauty is also what eventually brought Edfors to Colorado. Edfors moved to the D.C. area to marry her husband, who worked for NASA at the time. Five years ago, on a trip to Boulder, her husband fell in love with the town and got a job with Ball Aerospace and convinced Edfors to move to Boulder with him.
“He called me up and said, ‘We have to move out here,’” Edfors says. “I thought he was joking, and I said OK. But a week later he told me, ‘We have to move out here to work now.’ He just loved it so much.”
Edfors quickly became well-known in Boulder’s Thai community. She had enjoyed cooking ever since she began working at restaurants as a teenager in Thailand, so she decided to host dinners at her house for Thai students at CU.
“I felt like they were far away from home and I should do something to get us together with what I’m good at,” says Edfors. “They seemed to enjoy it, and I enjoyed the company as well.”
It was at one of these dinners that Edfors and Kiatreungwattana first met and became fast friends. As they got to know each other better, Edfors told Kiatreungwattana that it had always been a dream of hers to open a restaurant.
“It’s inside of me; it’s in my blood,” Edfors says.
“I’ve been working in the restaurant business since I was a teenager. I started working and I fell in love with it. I like to be around people. That’s in my nature to begin with, and I enjoy every bit of it.”
Finally, Edfors asked if Kiatreungwattana would use her business experience to help manage the restaurant.
“When we started to get to know each other she asked me seriously if I wanted to become her partner,” Kiatreungwattana says. “She said, ‘I will work in the kitchen and you can help me in the back office with the management side of the restaurant.’ I said OK, I want to help you.
“I was always impressed with her northern cuisine and cooking. All the Thai students knew about Ratiya and her cooking. When I tasted her food I would kind of tease her and ask, ‘Why don’t you open up a restaurant?’ She would just sort of smile, but I think she thought that in her head, too. She just didn’t know when and where to start.”
For the next two years, the two women kept their eye out for a location. Then, three months ago, a location on 1575 Folsom St. — that used to house The Siamese Plate/Siamese Plate on the Go, a Thai and sushi restaurant — opened up, and they leapt on it.
In addition to the building, the two also inherited most of the previous restaurant’s staff, including sushi chef Charlie Kiyomichi, which allowed them to continue offering sushi in addition to Edfors’ Thai dishes.
“The thing is, this restaurant had been here for 18 years,” Kiatreungwattana says. “When I was here at CU it was here already. It was known they offered Thai and sushi, which at the time was still a new concept, kind of the best of both worlds. They had regular customers, so when you come with a Thai background you don’t just want to offer Thai, because those customers are used to us offering Japanese. We are special because we offer both Thai and sushi with a real Thai chef and a real sushi chef right here.”
The two women have made several changes to the restaurant, however, to make it more eco-friendly, to fit in with the Boulder scene. They changed all of the light bulbs to LEDs and started recycling.
“We just want to be a part of Boulder, because I really love it here,” Edfors says. “The people are really nice. I love it and I don’t want to move away. I think it’s an opportunity town for everybody, but they have to love it in order to enjoy it.”
As both women scrambled to serve a crowded restaurant on the first night of their grand opening on Nov. 5, they both acknowledged that running Naraya was a daunting task, but one that they both embraced.
“It feels great,” says Edfors. “It’s just fulfilled a dream, and she’s helped me to do this. We just thought we should do it, because I’d been talking about it for a long time.”
“We’ve been working every day the past three months,” says Kiatreungwattana. “We got a day off on Labor Day, and our next day off will be Thanksgiving. We come to work every day, and it’s a new day and new challenges every day, but we still have that energy to keep on moving. I never had experience with restaurants before, but you know, after becoming friends you want your friend’s dream to come true.”