From the moment she held her first job in America, EZ Thai owner Pat Benjasakul always had dreams of opening her own restaurant.
“I was born and grew up in Thailand. When I arrived in Maryland, I barely spoke any English at all and tried to get jobs everywhere,” she said, “But it is hard to get a job when you barely speak English.” Pat’s mother took her to her mother’s favorite restaurant in Fort Washington, Maryland.
“I got to talk with the owner, and she gave me a huge opportunity to work at her restaurant. That meant a lot to a young, 19-year-old girl who was denied from every other place she went.”
The day Pat received that job, she made a promise to herself that when she is in the position to offer a similar opportunity, she will. “From a waitress with no experience, I grew to be a good server and my manager introduced me to all of her regular customers. I got to know all of them and felt the love from their eyes. I realized this place is not just a restaurant; this place created relationships between people, very strong relationships – like a family.”
Not long after, Pat also made a goal of having her own place where she could share her experiences, her love, and her passion for the customers that come through her doors. “I also wanted to share part of my culture, the foods of Thailand, with those in Southern Maryland. I wanted people to understand the value of Thai food,” Pat said.
Delicious Food, Great Prices, Quality Ingredients.
It is not easy for a restaurant to cook with quality ingredients on a limited budget, but it can be done. “I believe customers deserve the best dishes. To me, this means I want to find them the best quality food at an affordable price that meets their expectations.”
Pat wanted to create delicious meals costing between $11 to $15. “This is a continuous challenge for me. But when I make this happen, it means I can create more love and create more relationships with customers,” she said. Pat was only 22 when she opened her first restaurant. “Despite the small size, it was a lot of responsibly at such a young age,” she recalls. Luckily, she had her family’s support since the beginning. “I began with a 900 square foot buffet-style restaurant in King George County, Virginia.
Two years later, a friend called me and invited me to check out EZ Thai’s current space that had been vacant for years in Calvert County. At the time, I knew nothing about Calvert, but I seized the opportunity.”
Pat soon realized the people in Southern Maryland were looking for a place to get authentic Thai food because there were no Thai restaurants here yet. “This excited me. So, I decided to immediately sell my small restaurant in King George and started a new journey in Maryland,” Pat said.
On May 5, 2011, Pat and her two friends established the first Thai restaurant in Calvert County, EZ THAI. “We all shared the same dream; to open a Thai restaurant and introduce more people to the Thai cuisine.”
The first few years brought their crazy dreams to reality. “It gave us the opportunity to meet people that wanted to try Thai food, which was so important to us,” she said. “We spent valuable time together – made many mistakes, learned everything from scratch, and had many successes.” Though the trio has since parted ways, leaving Pat the sole owner, their legacy lives on in the success of the restaurant. “They showed me full support as I was the one who always came up with crazy ideas and these two always supported my ideas!” Pat said. “Though their goals in life changed, I would never be where I am without their support.”
What do you find most rewarding and satisfying about owning your restaurant?
The biggest reward is the feedback I get from my customers. I always want to deliver the best customer service, quality products with affordable prices, and my customers talk about my restaurant the exact way I originally set it out be. Our reviews bring me confirmation that I am doing what I set out to do.
How have you managed during the pandemic?
To be honest, it was super hard. The fear and concern in people’s eyes told me how serious the pandemic was, as well as the sad news from media. I still remember the first two weeks; my sales were nearly at 20 percent, so few cars were out on Route 4, and the parking lots were empty. I started seeing many businesses shutting down. I gave myself one day to worry about this pandemic and then I started asking: What can I do for myself, for my family, for my employees, my customers, and my community? I started taking action by first understanding all the CDC and health department guidelines.
Secondly, I made sure to keep myself and my team healthy. And third, I worked on providing the restaurant with the supplies, all the sanitizers, and anything that our business needed to keep our doors open. My goal was to keep all of my employees, if they choose to be with me. My staff is my asset, not a liability. My suppliers’ prices went up to the highest prices that we have ever experienced, but I knew this was not the time to increase the price for the customers.
And then I focused on contact-free deliveries. Over the past year, we have created many delivery friends from the pandemic. This situation taught me to think clearly, put together an action plan and support my community. We are now stronger than ever! Why do your customers keep coming back? Our customers keep coming back because we over-deliver. I think of our customers as our friends and treat them the same way I treat my staff and my family.
For someone unfamiliar with Thai cuisine, how would you describe it?
Fresh and flavorful, that’s Thai. Thai food does not have to be spicy as many people may think and it is mostly served with rice or noodles. With Thai, you find super flavorful dishes with fresh vegetables and other ingredients. Of course, the best way to become familiar is to come on over and try it out! Ninety-nine percent of our first-time customers had never tried Thai food before, and most of them turn out to be our newest friends and family.
What is your favorite Thai dish?
I can eat Pad Ka Prao every day.
What is your most popular dish?
The most popular dishes for us are pad Thai and drunken noodle. Drunken noodle is for people who enjoy a little spice and love noodles. The flavor of the fresh garlic and chili peppers impress many of our customers. For people who love this flavor but do not want any noodles, we offer Ka Prao fried rice, also known as basil fried rice. If you love rice but want more sauce, then we offer a different dish called Pad Ka Prao or spicy basil, fresh vegetables sautéed with your favorite choice of meat and served with steamed jasmine rice. I can go on and on about my menu – I can always be reached on our restaurant social media accounts and my staff is more than happy to recommend a good dish to start with.
What do you recommend from your menu to those who have never experienced Thai food before?
A few things. If you love curry, the curry menu is a MUST. Pad Nam Prik Pao is also a perfect dish for customers who love lots of fresh vegetables – something flavorful but not too spicy. It is a little combination of everything you could imagine.
Tell us about your food truck:
This was one of my crazy ideas! I just wanted to reach new people who had never tried our food. I also wanted EZ THAI to be mobile, so I can go anywhere, and to be part of the action, part of the fun. My goal is to cook food around happy people. This is why our tagline is “WE SERVE HAPPINESS.”
We hear you are celebrating 10 years in 2021! What is next for EZ THAI?
That is right! On May 5, 2021, we will have been in business for 10 years. What’s next? Going back to my original goal of creating strong relationships with customers, I’ve had many customers tell me they need to be on gluten free diets, slow down on carbs, or want vegan foods. I want to be able to take care of all of these requests. So far, we have mastered gluten free foods; we use those fresh vegetables, gluten free soy sauce and sauté with our magic wok. On top of that, I want my products to be in people’s pantries. I want EZ THAI to offer the products for people to cook or prep their meals at home. I want to be able to share the cooking experience with customers who are willing to learn to cook Thai food, so that they can cook for their families at home. Our friends can stay tuned for upcoming products!
Visit EZ THAI today!
Dine-in, order food online for takeout & delivery
120 Solomons Island Road S., Prince Frederick, MD