Bringing Thai to the East Coast

Champ Chompupong has made his mark on Church Street, as owner and head chef of Bangkok Bistro.Through tough times, and with his dreams of childhood behind him, he continues to bring his traditional Thai food to Burlington.Chompupong had childhood dreams of being a police officer. But in 1983, after studying political science in Thailand, he moved to N.Y. to take classes at Lexington College. Instead, he and his family opened their first restaurant, Ban Thai, which literally means House of Thai, and were very successful, Chompupong said.The owner of the Basin Ski Shop in Killington, Vt., who also owned part of a restaurant, made a stop into Ban Thai. “He ate at my restaurant in N.Y.,” Chompupong said,”He talked to me and liked my food, he asked me to come to Killington.” Although Chompupong liked the area, as a business man, he knew this wouldn’t be where he could make the most profit. During the off season, business slowed dramatically, which is when he decided to make the move to Burlington. It was Six years ago that Bangkok Bistro, a small restaurant whose black and white décor lends itself to the modernized version of his traditional Thai food, made its home in Burlington, Chompupong said.”I brought my original Thai food, mixed [and mixed it] with the new modern style, like a fusion,” he said.Many UVM students, as well as Burlington residents, enjoy the fusion style Chompupong has brought to Bangkok. “It was very relaxed but classy at the same time,” Cindy Patten, a junior at UVM, said. The décor, Patten said, is what makes the restaurant so welcoming.”I also liked how you could see the bar and the street from most of the tables, but it was far enough away that people on the street couldn’t see you,” he said.The black bar, with bright red lights peeking through the cut out holes that are placed in a wave-like fashion on the partition of the bar, is home to his many martinis. Chompupong said he got the idea of bringing this drink into his restaurant from his nephew, who works in a part of the southern U.S. where martinis are very popular. “I started with 20 martinis, and now I have 40,” Chompupong said.The mix of his fusion style and martinis received good ratings with the guests and can be attributed to the success Bangkok Bistro is having years later. Yet, Chompupong is most proud of the high quality and personal touch he assures when one chooses to dine at his place of business. It isn’t uncommon to see a customer ask Chompupong directly about something on the menu.”Hey Champ! What’s that big bowl of noodles you make?” one customer said. “Quality is under my control,” Chompupong said. “Usually people are going to know me before they have my business card.” He has also found success with the sushi bar, which is situated in the front of the small restaurant. “My sushi is a little bit different from other sushi because the way we do decorating,” Chompupong said. “We do art because I want to match with the Thai food fusion.”Unfortunately, no matter how delicious his food is, it is still a struggle to keep Bangkok running during such economic hardship.He estimates about an 80 percent drop in sales from summer to winter, when usually it averages a decline of about 40 percent.Nonetheless, the weekends do pick up. Monica Picard, who has been waitressing at Bangkok Bistro since August, said that although it has been slow, she hasn’t seen a decrease in her income in comparison to this time last year because the weekends bring many customers. “It has been slower, it’s usually a lot busier in the summer because of the patio,” Picard said. “Most restaurants in Burlington, I think, are just slower during the winter than they are in the summer.” Agreeing with Picard, Chompupong said, “People have to come. You have to go out; working the whole week.”He now works lunch and dinner, seven days a week, he is unsure of how long his restaurant will be able to last. He is putting hope in Barack Obama, as many people across the nation are, he said.”In the future, I don’t know what problems will come up,” Chompupong said. “Because we have to pay the bills, and the bills are the same. Everything stays the same, but sales drop.” Despite the lack of customers this winter slump has brought, Picard is still thinking positively, “It’s slower, but it will get busy again once it gets warmer.”Chompupong is hoping for a good summer season as well, but knows if it stays slow, he, as well as many of his Church Street neighbors who provide delectable, diverse food, will be going out of business.