ZEN Thai & Japanese Restaurant in Crestview Plaza, Crestwood, MO
ZEN Marks 8th Anniversary,
Popularity Continues to Grow
by Char Mason
"You can never go back". We have all heard that statement, but a recent return to our long time favorite restaurant has disproved that admonition. When it comes to ZEN Thai & Japanese Restaurant, the small, but ever so popular restaurant located near the Aldi's Store in Crestview Plaza - you CAN go back.
Because our publisher, Linda Blackburn, has a chronic case of shingles she has endured a very restrictive diet for almost two years. The good news is - the diet works. The bad news it, we have greatly reduced our visits to local restaurants as is obvious by the lack of updates on our restaurant page.
When recently, we heard that our friend, Packy, had undergone open heart surgery we decided that we missed our friends at ZEN and we decided to at least stop by for a drink. Linda even said that her feelings would not be hurt if I indulged in my favorite musaman or drunken noodles.
This time we chose to go early in order to miss the evening crowd which starts pouring in after 5 p.m. on most evenings. From the moment we walked into the small restaurant in Crestview Plaza a flood of pleasant memories came pouring in, delighting our senses. There was a warm, familiar air filled with the aroma of live spices and sweet steam that could only mean we were in for yet another culinary treat.
Despite the fact that she is recovering from open heart surgery, a smiling Packy, the capable matron of the restaurant, greeted us with "Sa wat de kaa", a familiar greeting among honored friends, and seated us at a table near the front so we could visit, which we did between her tending to the business of the busy and popular restaurant.
Kanita, Packy, Paul & Pann Pisutewongse, the family who built one of the most popular four star restaurants in St. Louis County. Last year Paul exhibited his carpentry skills when he remodeled the interior of the restaurant. (photo by TheNews)
Our reunion was a happy one and resulted in Pann, the son of owners Packy Vimonvan Pisutewongse and her husband, Paul spending several minutes with Linda, learning what ingredients she could tolerate, and suggesting meals that could be prepared to fit her bill. What a great surprise! The result was a great meal for both of us and proof that, in some cases, you can go back and everything will be as good as you remember.
More than once, we have found what we considered to be a great restaurant, only to find that over the years, its quality diminished, or theattitude of staff changed, or it became so popular the service was less than stellar. Not so with ZEN.
The Pisutewongse family began its journey toward realizing The American dream late in 1999 when the economy in Thailand turned downward. Their sale of Japanese fashioned crepes, a small business that Packy had taken over from a friend in 1994 had been fairly successful for seven years, but then sales began to slow. The young parents wanted a better life for their family.
Their friends in the United States encouraged them to travel the 14,000 kilometers to St. Louis where they would find a better life. Packy, the grand dame of the restaurant, was the first family member to come to the St. Louis. The economy in the U.S. was still good and she soon had a job at Manee Thai Restaurant in Ballwin where she worked for two years and began to save money for the family's future.
Packy's husband, Paul, soon joined her and brought with them 16 year old Pann and 10 year old daughter, Kanita, also called Pinn.
"We walked into a dying American style fast-food establishment where there were seven bar stools sitting across from the kitchen, 14 rectangular red dining tables and many skinny leg banquet’s style reddish chairs spreading around a tiny space, recalls Pann.
" Even the gigantic refrigerator and freezer that we are using today were sitting in the back of the dining area. It was a hotdog place our family took over from a family’s friend. We cleaned them up, moved them out, and turned an American diner into an Asian restaurant… slowly."
For Pann, the change was not something he looked forward to or enjoyed - at first.
"I had friends in Thailand and I liked it there," he said. He disliked not being able to speak English well, and being enrolled in Parkway Central High School, where the more than 1,000 students left him feeling isolated and homesick at first. He had been exposed to English classes in Thailand but could not keep up with American teenagers' culture. He was soon able to conquer the language, but, for his social life to compare to that he had known in Thailand, took a little while longer.
" I was just that little Thai kid eating my lunch alone in the cafeteria," he remembers. But his pleasant smile and gentle manner soon won him friends and made him a welcome host at ZEN where he was able to improve his English and his social skills.
Kanita and Pann have practically grown up in ZEN and consider long time employee, Jan, to be much like an older sister who gives advice and support to the whole family. (photo by TheNews staff)
Repeat customers like Brad Constantinescce and Ann Mircea say they visit ZEN once or twice a week. Like most ZEN customers, they love the high quality of the food, the pleasant atmosphere and reasonable prices. An emigrant himself, Brad understands and appreciates how hard the family has worked to realize the American dream. (Photo by TheNews)
Probably due to her young age, Kanita seemed better able to adapt her new life. She attended Parkway South High School and began working at ZEN as soon as she was able to communicate with customers.
Before too long, the handsome and pleasant young Pann conquered English and gained new friends, not only among his peers but among the adults who visited the restaurant where he worked on weekends.