2 minutes with Palisa Anderson
Business: Chat Thai Group
Chat Thai was created by your mum Amy Chanta 25 years ago, you have grown up alongside it, what makes it such a special place?
Indeed, I have grown up alongside it- at times really envied it for the time it took my mother, Amy Chanta away from my brother and I. However now that we both have families we can really appreciate the sort of dedication it takes to operate and grow a business of this scope and the sacrifices our mother had to make in order to get to this point. Also, we gratefully reap the some of the benefits to her having already done the ground work in Chat Thai, one of which is we are able to plan more time with our families than she had the option to. When I was growing up, time off away from the restaurants for her was scarce so we literally would take one day holidays at most- one distinct memory is of my mum feeling so guilty on a Sunday afternoon that she'd drive us to Manly for an hours play on the beach where she would pretend we were at an exotic destination but was always watching the clock for 3pm when she would have to rush back in time to prep for dinner service.
Chat Thai is extremely special to me, the best element to our business is without doubt the people who work there and the relationships that I have formed over the years with them. I used to be the little kid who was molly coddled by the 'aunties' and 'uncles' who worked with my mum and now, I am the 'aunty' to most of the kids who work with us. It's a strange and beautiful transition.
Uncle Noi who was essentially my mother's first employee is still with the company, recently we did a R & D trip with him and another chef to Hong Kong- more an eating holiday than R & D. These people are witness to not just the business but to my development, it's impossible to separate those aspects of my life. They are amazing support to me and for them I know Chat Thai is more than just business and work. Many of our current managers have been in the company for over ten years, we grew up together and everyone has each other's back.
My mother has been an enormous role model to me in regards to her treatment and respect for our people- many of our customers tell me that when they step into any one of our restaurants, they feel taken care of as if they were at a friend’s house rather than just another restaurant. I'm a big believer that the culture of a workplace is a trickle-down effect. We try to empower people within our company to make good decisions for themselves and the business. It really is a joy to come to work every day.
Boon Cafe was a different addition to the group, how did it come about?
When the sight for Boon/Jarernchai (our cafe which is housed within the same space as the Grocery) came up, we knew we wanted to have a casual eatery in Thaitown that wasn't necessarily a Thai restaurant concept. It needed to be all day trading too which was how the coffee idea came into play. Once we had the cafe concept, we focused on using speciality coffee (Single Origin) and generally being a one stop place where you get a broad spectrum of local/Thai influenced menu offerings as well as your South East Asian grocery needs met.
The idea of Isaan food for the dinner part of the menu was an obvious choice for us as we love the food of North Eastern Thailand which is based around fresh produce with an interesting use of fermented meats and fish. The Breakfast and the Lunch menu is our interpretation of those flavours but approached with a user-friendly practicality.
For example we do the ubiquitous 'Avo Smash' toast but our version is the 'Yum Avo' ('yum' being the word for salad in Thai) which is avocado mixed with lime juice, toasted chilli and fish sauce that we serve on sourdough from our friends at Brickfields and house-made pork crackling with a soft herb salad.
Why is Thai food such an important part of the Sydney food culture?
This is a really interesting question which I get asked a lot and I'm still trying to figure out the answer. I think the Thai diaspora in Sydney has something to do with it, the need for authentic Thai food to satiate the Thai population of their nostalgia for familiar flavour profiles really drove Thai restaurateurs to stay true to flavours and ingredients. That certainly was the case for my mum who I truly regard as a pioneer in that respect. She has an amazing palate and business acumen, she ventured to find growers and producers that sold heirloom Thai varieties. Initially there was a lot of substituting especially with herbs, but now there really is no excuse to be using Italian basil in recipes that call for Thai basil or Holy basil. Thai food is so much about aromas and all the fresh herbs and vegetables. We really are so fortunate to live in a country with an amazingly diverse climate that is able to grow essentially anything, and with the brave growers who are willing to try.
What's a normal work day for you involve?
An average day in Sydney always starts off with a green juice which we make at home from what we grow in our garden. We're usually in a mad dash to get to school because if there's one meal I'm going to get right for the kids it's breakfast. After dropping my daughter, Soraya 7 and son, Arthur 6 to school I go into either any one of the Chat Thai's or Boon/Jarernchai before 9am. I'm generally shaking for a coffee by then but if they're completely smashed with diners and a long coffee line, I've got it in me to step in to run tables and orders still. I love being in our shops, the energy is always so fun and upbeat, our staff really carry it. Once the buzz from the morning service has died down then I sit down to emails, phoning in orders to suppliers and having meetings with managers and one on ones with staff.
Once a week my mother, husband Matt, brother Pat and sister-in-law Natasha get together for a management meeting to discuss our ongoing and future projects, maintenance issues and the like.
Often, I'm running around too much for a proper sit down lunch unless it's been scheduled in as a meeting, it's really bad but I'm usually gulping down whatever the leftovers from family meal is as I'm running out of the restaurant to pick up my son from school. Pretty much guaranteed that I'm the last parent to pick up, I have to give credit to my kids and their teachers for never making me feel guilty about that. Occasionally my son will ask why I'm so late but the minute we cuddle, I'm forgiven.
While my I drive my kids to various activities after school, I'm usually on the phone still dealing with things that have come up at work. Sometimes, I rebound back to one of the restaurants and my kids have become very good at bussing tables and walking up to total strangers in the Grocery Jarernchai and trying to sell them our local Byron medicinal honey. It's hilarious because they give the same sales pitch I give to them when they're sick.
When you are not working, where do you eat out in Sydney?
My family are proverbial Hospitality people, we love going out to eat- besides from our business it’s the one thing we all have in common, some families bond over camping we bonded over eating out. A few of our favourites are Jugemu Shimbashi for Japanese, Ester for everything, family favourite is Fratelli Paradiso, a weekend without Rosso Pomodoro Pizza is very unusual, Malabar for Bangalore Dosai which some Indian friends introduced us to but now we're completely addicted, Acme and Bar Brose for an incredibly creative and delicious feed.
Recently I discovered Harpoon Harry's, it's close to us and I sometimes sneak over to for cheese burger or their Johnny cakes and Pimento cheese. Another place which I do have to mention is Taste of Shanghai either World Square or Shanghai Stories in Chatswood. My mother is of Chinese Thai heritage and that urge for dumplings can be extremely overwhelming and the only way to get it to pipe down is to feed it some XLB.
You can follow Palisa on Instagram @palisaanderson