Branching out

By Bill Rautenstrauch, For The Observer August 14, 2013 10:40 am

Frankie Chen, owner and manager of the Golden Crown restaurant on Adams Avenue recently purchased the Bangkok East Thai restaurant next door to his establishment. In the near future, Bangkok East will do business as Saia Thai. (Bill Rautenstrauch / For WesCom News Service)
Frankie Chen, owner and manager of the Golden Crown restaurant on Adams Avenue recently purchased the Bangkok East Thai restaurant next door to his establishment. In the near future, Bangkok East will do business as Saia Thai. (Bill Rautenstrauch / For WesCom News Service)
 

Golden Crown acquires next-door neighbor, Bangkok East 

A young entrepreneur who was born in China and educated in La Grande has branched out, acquiring a second Oriental-style restaurant in downtown La Grande.

Frankie Chen, owner and manager of the Golden Crown at 1116 Adams Ave., didn’t have to go far to find a suitable expansion site. Recently, he purchased the Bangkok East restaurant just next door. Now, he’s doing some remodeling to consolidate the two operations.

“We’re adding one door between the two places for customers, and another for employees. We’re also redoing the floors (at Bangkok East), and doing some redecorating,” he said.

Chen, 33, was born in Canton and came to the United States with his family when he was about 13. He graduated from John Marshall High School in Portland around the same time his mother and father purchased the Golden Crown, a Chinese restaurant already well-established in downtown La Grande. 

Chen moved to La Grande and worked in the family business while attending Eastern Oregon University.

“My parents didn’t speak the language that well. I’d just graduated from high school and they wanted me to come and help out. I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

While working to make the Golden Crown a success, Chen attended Eastern Oregon University, earning a degree in business management. He said he wasn’t always convinced that a career in the food industry was right for him, but as time went on he decided to continue down that road. He took full charge of the Golden Crown in 2007.

“After college I figured there were only a couple of ways to go. I could go somewhere and get a good job, or start a small business and expand from there,” he said.

The chance for expansion came up this summer, when Julie Naknakhone, owner of the Bangkok East Thai restaurant at 1114 Adams Ave., decided to get out of business. Naknakhone had run Bangkok East only a short time, having opened it in April of this year.

“I was talking to her and basically she said she didn’t like the stress, so I offered to buy that business,” Chen said.

Before it became Bangkok East, the restaurant at 1114 Adams was Foley Station, an upscale eatery operated by Merlyn Baker. Foley Station closed in November 2011, a casualty of the Great Recession. It had done business in La Grande 14 years, first in the old Foley Building on Adams, then in the location across the street at 1114 Adams.

Chen said that the Golden Crown will retain its moniker and continue serving Chinese food, while Bangkok East will become Saia Thai.

Saia Thai will serve up Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese items.

“La Grande is still a small community and I think we need a little more variety,” Chen said. He said that eventually the two restaurants will operate under the Golden Crown name.

Chen said Golden Crown currently employs about 18 people, and that the staff will increase by about a half-dozen once the new operation is in full swing.

For now, Bangkok East remains open, and is staffed by those who worked there before the sale took place.

Chen said he isn’t sure when the name will officially change to Saia Thai, though it probably will be soon.

“It will take a few weeks for the signs and new menus to get here,” he said.