Thai empire expands
Palisa Anderson – daughter of the matriarch and founder of Chat Thai, Amy Chanta – shows us around the new fit-out in The Grove, on Military Road. It’s their eighth eatery in Sydney, and it will pioneer a new business model.
“We wanted to have a slightly different concept, and that is blending the restaurant with a Thai grocer,” she explains, showcasing the display fridge and freezer, which will be full of grab-and-go meals, Chat Thai’s very own bespoke coconut ice-cream, a range of sauces, and a barbecue section.
“What we learned during COVID is you’d go to your local hole-in-the-wall barista and they’re all selling bread and eggs as well,” she says.
“People are shifting towards that sort of shopping style, and we think that’s probably going to stick around for a while.”
Chat Thai’s range of products will be locally sourced or authentic Thai goods, of course.
Indeed, Palisa and her mother purchased their now certified organic ‘Boon Luck Farm’ in Byron Bay in 2015, such was their desire to produce and cook with “good quality Asian vegetables”, using ethical farming practices. Chat Thai now uses organic, immunity boosting produce whenever they are available from the farm.
“Communicating our growing practice to our customers is an ongoing process… that transition to being really careful about where you eat and what you buy at the supermarket to feed your kids, that message is still only slowly getting out there,” Palisa continues.
This mission has seen Palisa feature on television alongside well-known presenter Costa Georgiadis, and she’s even hosted her own five-part SBS series to go to air in mid-November.
But ask her, and mum Amy is the celebrity.
As a single mum in Thailand, Amy made the gut-wrenching decision to leave her two kids with her parents and move to Australia in 1983 to “forge a life in a foreign land with no English”.
She had nothing but a couple of hundred dollars and the name of one other Thai person scribbled on a piece of paper.
Her acute business acumen was clear from an early age, when, as a young woman, she saw that workers at a textile factory – where her father was general manager – were eating “rubbish” and she set about selling them more nutritious and tasty pre-packaged meals.
Once in Australia, she did a few odd jobs in the interim, before opening her first Chat Thai in Darlinghurst in 1989. By then, Palisa and her brother Pat were living with her again, and spending much of their time at the restaurant, learning the ins and outs of the restaurant game.
Palisa laughs as she recalls lying on top of the fridge waiting to go home, as Amy deep-cleaned the kitchen in the early hours of the morning.
And while she initially had “strong reservations” about joining the family business, as it can be “all consuming”, her love of food took hold. Now, not only does she manage the business, her husband Matt runs the back office operations, and her kids are helping out at Neutral Bay.
Matt jokes that their daughter takes after her mum in the kitchen rather than him, as his best culinary compliment to date has been, ‘You make good toast, dad!’
“But Soraya is amazing, she’ll be in the kitchen early every day cooking up a hot lunch for her and her brother to take to school,” he laughs.
So, will Amy Chanta’s grandchildren be running the empire one day? “If you ask them, they’ll say yes,” Palisa grins.