Posted: September 15, 2020 Interview with Carrie Cha - Owner of Thai Orchid
Carrie Cha has deep roots in the restaurant business. With relatives running several other businesses in Eau Claire, including Egg Rolls Plus and Rice Palace, she answered a familiar familial calling when she took over Thai Orchid (203 N. Barstow) in 2018.
Her family moved to the U.S. in the late 1970s and eventually settled in Eau Claire. While she has not had formal training in running a restaurant, making food for others to enjoy is a deep-seated tradition with her family.
“Both of my parents come from large families, and food, cooking, and cuisine has always been a part of what our family does,” she says. “To this day, the dads in our family will get together and each cook a dish, and the family votes for their favorite.”
Drawing on the regional cuisine of her Hmong heritage, the restaurant features primarily Thai cuisine - including curries, rice noodles, and stir fry dishes. Thai Orchid also includes some Vietnamese dishes like pho.
“All our dishes include a Hmong flare, with some of our traditional spices added to them,” says Carrie.
She has plans for expanding her menu and creating a more immersive experience for the restaurant in the future.
“When I took over, I kept things pretty much the same at first. Now we’re hoping to get a little more playful with the menu offerings. When you go to a restaurant in Thailand, it obviously feels a lot different than going out to eat in Wisconsin. We’re hoping to create more of a Thai dining experience with our restaurant, which includes a lot more plants and bamboo in the decor to give our place a little more of an exotic feel,” she says.
One of the ways she thinks Downtown Eau Claire can continue to diversify its offerings is to create more opportunities for BIPOC business owners to locate and stay in the downtown area. As a renter, she finds herself weighing the pros and cons of keeping her restaurant in the downtown area. Opportunities to own her own building and make further investments in her business would be a major incentive to stay in the downtown and could be for many other business owners.
While there is still a lot of progress to be made, Carrie has seen positive growth in the community.
“We get people from all over the world that visit the restaurant,” she says. “We have seen our clientele get progressively more diverse.” She notes that UWEC Students and JAMF business travelers have contributed a lot to the diversity of restaurant patrons - and that those patrons are looking for more dining options in the downtown.
“I’d love to see a bakery or more dessert options,” she says. “A dim sum restaurant would be great.”
While the year has brought some challenges, including an incident of vandalism to their front door, Carrie says that the restaurant is figuring out how to keep moving ahead.
She has been able to pull some positives from the challenges of this year:
“We really have felt the love and support from the community,” she says. “We have gotten so many thank yous from customers, and some have even been buying a few days worth of food at a time from us.”
“When the vandalism happened, it was while protests for George Floyd were happening in Eau Claire. We don’t know if those things were at all related, but the event organizers offered to post volunteers near the restaurant to help protect from any future vandalism. We were also really touched by the police response to the incident. They posted a squad car near the restaurant to keep an eye on things. I especially appreciate the Hmong outreach that the department provides. That kind of response really makes us feel like we’re a part of this city.”
Thai Orchid is an important part of the future of Downtown Eau Claire. DECI looks forward to working with Carrie, other business owners, and community members to bring more diverse voices and experiences to the downtown we love.