Julie Naknakhone is the proprietor of Bangkok East, a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant soon to open in downtown La Grande. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH photo)
Vietnamese food will also be on the menu at Bangkok East that is set to open in early April at site formerly occupied by Foley Station restaurant
by BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / for The Observer
A downtown restaurant closed since 2011 will soon open its doors again, under a different name, with different management and a decidedly different menu.
Moving into the space formerly occupied by the upscale Foley Station restaurant is Bangkok East, an eatery serving up Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. It’s the brainchild and labor of love of Chourirath Naknakhone, a woman who was raised in Laos and Thailand and moved to the United States in 1981.
Naknakhone, now an American citizen, is known to her family and friends as Julie. Her work experience includes a stint as a cook at the Bangkok Kitchen and another as a cook and supervisor at the Bow Thai Restaurant, both popular eating spots in Portland.
“The Bangkok Kitchen has very good food, and the Bow Thai is a big modern restaurant that always did good business. People stood in line for tables,” Naknakhone said.
Naknakhone said she and her family immigrated to the United States to escape war and political turmoil in Laos and Thailand. She lived first in San Diego, Calif., and later moved north to Stockton. After that, she moved to Portland. Today, she lives in Wallowa and is engaged to be married to Wallowa resident Keith Garoutte.
She said she searched a long time for a suitable location for her own restaurant, and thinks the former Foley Station is the right place.
“I looked at many places, and one day we drove past here and I thought, ‘La Grande doesn’t have Thai food,’” she said. “I like it in La Grande. It’s a nice, quiet, beautiful city.”
Foley Station, an upscale restaurant operated by Merlyn Baker, closed in November 2011, a casualty of the Great Recession. The restaurant had done business in La Grande for 14 years, first in the old Foley Building on Adams, then in the current location across the street at 1114 Adams Ave.
Foley Station features state of the art kitchen facilities, a bar, spacious seating and a banquet room downstairs. Most of the equipment and fixtures remain, and will be put to use by Naknakhone, who is leasing the restaurant from owner Roger Baker.
Naknakhone said she hopes one day to throw the basement banquet facility open for larger gatherings, but for now she plans to use only the main the main floor. Starting out, the staff is small; Naknakhone will be assisted in the operation by her brother, Lap Linthavong, and her sister, Bounyang Linthavong.
While she believes the La Grande community will be receptive of a restaurant serving Thai and Vietnamese dishes, Naknakhone said she isn’t trying to bring the business along too fast. She and her family will be the only employees until she’s had time to see how it goes.
“I’m nervous because I don’t have enough people if I get busy,” she said.
The menu will feature rice dishes, stir fry, curries, noodle dishes and specialty items. Naknakhone said alcoholic beverages will be available, though she is still waiting for her liquor license.
This week, Naknakhone traveled to Portland for supplies. She said she’ll spend the rest of March getting ready for an early April opening.
Apprehensive though she might be, she said she’s looking forward to the day.
“I like to cook. I enjoy it, and if the people eating say it’s good, I’m happy,” she said.