Street Eatin'

Truck Stop: Pai Pongsupaht of Pai’s

"I like meals where you have different flavors and textures to chose from. It’s what makes eating fun."

By Christopher Werner February 23, 2012

Pai Pongsupaht combines Thai and Hawaiian cuisines in a four-wheeler the color of Sunny D. Photo courtesy Pai’s.

Pai Pongsupaht doesn’t have formal training, but that’s not to say the Thai-born, Hawaii-bred Pongsupaht isn’t versed in culinary matters.

“I grew up around and have a really strong relationship with food. My family loves to eat. My mom is a really good cook. My aunt owned an orchard. And I would say that most Thais in general are really passionate, if not obsessive, about food.” The guy fried his first egg at age five, for crying out loud.

Pongsupaht moved to Seattle in 1996 to attend UW and would work in restaurants and bars through the mid-aughts. “Due to the nature of the work, I wouldn’t get home until about 3am. Food Network was just about the only thing on TV at that hour. Through many years of watching various programs I picked up culinary techniques to enhance my cooking skills.” He eventually left the industry to pursue the non-profit sector and joined such local initiatives as The Service Board and Seattle’s Youth Employment Program. When the recession hit and his contract with the city wasn’t renewed, Pongsupaht trolled Craigslist for work. “I fooled around and jokingly searched ‘food truck.’ The rest is history.”

Here, Pongsupaht pulls over for a few questions.

What item sells out first? Our huli-huli lemongrass chicken. “Huli” means to “flip” in Hawaiian. It’s basically grilled chicken that you can spot miles away because of its fragrant smoke signal. Ours is a modified Thai-infused version of that.

Where do your recipes come from? They are either classics or reinventions of classics with Thai and Southeast Asian ingredients.

If you could park anywhere in the city, where would it be? Somewhere flat, first of all. We tried to serve First Hill when we first launched. We had some of the best customers there. Reason for First Hill is because my heart goes out to medical workers. Many of them would tell us how grateful they were that they didn’t have to eat cafeteria food that day. These people save lives. They deserve good food.

Best part of the city relaxing street food regulations: The real benefit is that the buzz around the regulations essentially brought buzz to the food trucks and got the public excited—whether it meant people would be more inclined to eat at a food truck or more entrepreneurs would want to start one up.

What, if anything, would you like to change about the city’s new street food regulations? More than changes, I would like to see support from the city. I feel there are anti-food truck sentiments for fear of us stealing business. I feel that food trucks can work in conjunction with other businesses to promote food traffic in a way that everyone wins. Different government sectors oversee different portions, and it feels inconsistent and fragmented. I hope to see more communication between these government entities. I hope to see more We’ll provide these resources and make it work for you type of regulations than the These are things you cannot do regulations.

When I’m not in my truck you can find me eating at… A friend’s house. The one thing better than eating food is eating food with people you love. When I miss Thailand, I visit my friends Mark and Picha at Thai Curry Simple.

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