Thai Restaurant Nourishes “Community” in West Hill

by Marcus Harrison Green

Lake Thai 3
An entree at Lake Thai Cuisine

Those fortunate enough to have had serendipity guide them to the discovery of the Lakeridge neighborhood’s Lake Thai Cuisine are most often introduced to the feelings shock and awe upon their entry. Though serious candidates for suppliers of these sensations, it is not the restaurant’s wonderful Happy Hour that actually does justice to the phrase after a long day’s labor, nor its authentic Thai entrees that provoke lament at evolution for cursing humans with only one stomach, nor even a menu that was designed to inflate the waistline without bursting the wallet.

No, the amazement that greets patrons when they set foot through the doors of the West Hill area restaurant- located in the minute corridor between Seattle and Renton, the city limits of each being just a few feet away from its premises in opposite directions- is kindle by the sight of people from all walks of life, who have no obvious relation other than the shared experience of an exquisite meal, are utterly engrossed in collective conversation with one another.

This is no small feat in a day and age when people frequent eateries and coffee shops to do nothing more than be alone together, buried in the digital screens of their smartphones that operate as electronic appendages. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that it is transpiring in the Skyway/ West Hill area; a place whose reputation for chilly interactions between residents makes the Seattle Freeze look like a slightly breezy day.

“Food is of course important, but we wanted a place that regardless of race, creed, or income, really served to foster community right here in this area,” said Peter Stripp, who along with his wife Sirima opened Lake Thai Cuisine a little over 4 months ago.

“As soon as someone walks in here, we want them to feel a sense of warmth and at ease enough so they feel like they can make connections here with their neighbors,” Stripp says in his English accent, which compliments an urbane manner that frequenters of the area’s only Thai restaurant have come to adore.

Judging by a typical evening at the restaurant -which crackles with a festive energy resulting from spontaneous conversations amongst table mates that touch on everything from food, to life, to the surrounding neighborhoods, and often features nightly conversions of long time strangers into new friends- it seems abundantly obvious that its cultivation of the community is thriving.

But lest you think that Lake Thai Cuisine is all talk, Stripp and his wife Sirima- who was born in Thailand and had her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant realized the day the couple purchased the building Lake Thai Cuisine currently occupies after its previous tenant, a jazz lounge, floundered- view the food they serve, which consists of mainly traditional Thai dishes, on equal footing as the atmosphere they strive to provide.

“So often you dine at a restaurant and the food taste different every time you come in. It was paramount that our food be consistent, so that every single time someone ordered something they knew what to expect, and what was great the last time they visited us, wouldn’t be just okay the next time they came in,” says Stripp.

Adds Sirima, who has cooked Thai inspired food virtually her entire life, “For us our formula for success is simple: provide good food and excellent customer service, and people will come to you no matter where you are.”

Her last point alludes to the fact that the area of Skyway/West Hill has received constant criticism for being infertile ground for start ups- especially restaurants with their traditionally low profit margins. Though the many carcasses of one time businesses that are now occupied by church storefronts would seem to attest to this, Stripp believes that Lake Thai Cuisine’s location- with its high visibility along Rainier Avenue- is a boon for the restaurant.

“There is honestly no reason why we can’t be successful here,” say Stripp. “Rainier Avenue South is becoming a heavily trafficked area because people want to avoid the main freeways if they can. We feel that we are in a prime location.”

“In fact,” the Englishman shares, “We continue to attract devoted customers because of where we are at, not in spite of it, as the other day a gentleman came in here and said: Please, please don’t leave us. The people and food here are too good!”

Lake Thai Cuisine is located at 11425 Rainier Avenue South Seattle, WA 98178, and is open Mon-Thurs from 11:30am to 9:oopm, Fri-Sat 11:30am to 10:00pm, and Sunday 4:00pm to 9:00pm.