Ten minutes down the road from Michigan State University’s campus lies the heart of Thai cuisine: Thai Princess.
Thaowan Ratanarush, or Noy, has brought the flavors of her home in Phitsanulok, Thailand to Okemos, providing authentic Thai food for students, families and even public figures.
Ratanarush was in the kitchen from a young age. Growing up in Thailand, food was always a familial event. Children either learned to cook from their mom or aunties or just about anyone in your family who wanted to pass down the art.
For years, Ratanarush spent her time helping her mother in the kitchen, mastering the techniques and tastes.
Ratanarush embarked on the journey from Thailand to New York City 22 years ago in the hopes of providing people with real Thai food, not the American unauthentic rendition seen so commonly.
“I tried to do everything exactly as in Thailand,” Ratanarush said about her cooking.
Within eight years, Ratanarush owned and operated several restaurants in New Jersey and New York.
However, as the New York City scene became exhaustive and too busy, Ratanarush's friend from Michigan reached out to her, telling her to bring her business and food to Michigan.
So she packed her bags and did just that.
Ratanarush opened her first Thai Princess in Okemos in 2010. After only one year, Ratanarush had to expand the layout of her restaurant as her current set up was unable to accommodate the amount of customers she had, according to restaurant manager Saichon Gallagher.
“When I’m cooking, everybody loves my food,” Ratanarush said.
Ratanarush sources her protein and produce from Detroit, receiving fresh ingredients twice a week.
MSU alumni Lucas Hossi said he is a big fan of the restaurant’s mango juice.
“The mango juice, if you're into juices, I will definitely recommend. It's very tasty and it taste very organic as well,” Hossi said.
Gallagher said Thai Princess’s signature dish is Khao Mok Gai, a Thai style yellow rice curry with herbed chicken served with cucumber salad sauce and steamed vegetables.
Alongside dishes like fried rice and pad Thai, Thai Princess also offers several desserts including fried ice cream and mango with sticky rice that is dipped into coconut milk and sugar. The restaurant also offers authentic Thai tea, a mix of Thai tea mix and half and half.
Hossi said part of the reason he enjoys eating at the restaurant is the atmosphere.
“The setup is wonderful,” Hossi said. “They have plants hanging around, they have flowers and things like that. The lighting is also great. So it just has that homey feeling so to speak. And it's very great to sit down and just have a lunch with a friend or catch up with your colleagues as well.”
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Pulling inspiration from Thailand, Ratanarush put her own muscle into creating the ambiance of Thai Princess.
“I do everything in the restaurant, I paint,” Ratanarush said. “I do the wallpaper. I do the stone and everything by myself.”
Interior design has become a hobby for Ratanarush, according to Gallagher.
Ratanarush likes to decorate the restaurant for any holiday that provides a theme such Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. She often finds herself at craft stores, collecting the tools she’ll need to create an immersive and exciting experience.
“You won't find a place with the ambience similar to the type this is,” Hossi said.
The restaurant has attracted a handful of high profile visitors over the years, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with her family and former MSU Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio.
Next on Ratanarush's to-do list, is to obtain an alcohol license so the she can start serving cocktails and other alcoholic beverages, like Thai beer, at the restaurant.
Thai Princess is located at 1754 Central Park Dr. in Okemos.
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