Ayara Thai lets creativity and passion flow to offer new dining experiences and delicious food

Everyone’s business could use a little help these days, so every month we’re featuring a different small business to help promote shopping locally and to support community members. 

Since 2004, Ayara Thai has been delighting customers with their delicious, fresh and home-cooked dishes leading to a dedicated following of foodies throughout the community and beyond. Owned by the Asapahu family and led by Vanda Asapahu, the restaurant continues to innovate when it comes to offering new dining experiences for its customers.

Get the scoop on one of our favorite local restaurants by reading below!

Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. A. I am a Thai-American Angeleno. I was born in Thailand and my family and I moved to Los Angeles when I was 5-years-old. We moved to Westchester when I was in eighth grade, so I attended Orville Wright Middle and graduated from Westchester High School (class of 2000) before doing my undergrad at UCLA and graduate degree at Yale. I am the oldest of three siblings. My brother, Peter, is a year younger and my sister, Cathy, is 12 years younger. All three of us run Ayara in some capacity. While I am full-time dedicated to our family’s restaurant, Peter and Cathy contribute and help make all major decisions. My mom is in the kitchen almost every day. She’s the hardest working human I know and inspires me to work harder and smarter. If growing up in Westchester and living and running a restaurant in Westchester does not say how much this town means to me, I am married to my high school friend whose family also lives in Westchester. This town and its people raised and groomed me and continue to support my family and I during all the highs and lows of our family’s business.

Q. Please tell us a little bit about your business? A. Ayara Thai was born out of my parents’ American dream of being their own bosses, and doing what they love most—nourishing people with their food. Before Ayara, my parents opened and closed many restaurants, and operated a catering business out of our home kitchen. My siblings and I are the true definition of restaurant kids: doing homework in the storage room and putting ourselves to sleep because our parents worked late into the night. We saw and witnessed all the struggles and the sacrifices they made for us. Ayara Thai was my parents last attempt at the restaurant business, and in 2004 it was formed out of all the lessons learned and savings they had. While I helped start the business with menu design, plating and marketing, I stepped away for school and to pursue my own career. In 2010, I left my career to help grow our family’s business during its growing pains. Initially it was temporary, but I loved it and never looked back. Fast forward to 2020 and nine months into a pandemic, I am proud that we are able to continue to serve home-cooked Thai food I grew up eating and worthy of Michelin Bib Gourmand 2019 recognition. I am elated that we grew our business slowly together as a family with no investors and able to own property. I am most proud of the relationships we have made: guests who regularly support us, farmers who grow the freshest produce for us, and the many dedicated team members who have been with us for five-plus and 10-plus years and call Ayara home. 

Chef Vanda hosts a virtual cooking class. Photo courtesy Ayara.

Q. What do you like about running your business and being an entrepreneur? A. Running a business with my family and being an entrepreneur has its challenges, but I would never trade it for a comfortable desk job. There is a thrill and adrenaline rush to being a business owner that gives me an edge and a high unlike anything else. Knowing that people depend on me motivates me to do my best. Being an entrepreneur is endlessly interesting. I am always learning, growing and improving. Creativity is rewarded. As I grow our business, steps to become more efficient, run more profitably, and improve the workplace through benefits and training can be quickly implemented. The best part of being a boss is being able to change what I want to see! 

Q. How has COVID impacted your business? A. While I have always considered our team to be an extended family, the pandemic has reminded me what is truly important: their health, wellbeing and success. Each member of our team represents a family, a roommate, and even possibly a pet, that depends on them to live. In knowing that my family’s responsibility extends beyond the walls of the restaurant, we took several measures to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our team. We have provided everyone with regular and steady PPE supplies to use at work and to take home, implemented a daily meal that goes beyond having something to eat just at work, and all the necessary physical barriers and structures to ensure both our team and guests are socially distanced. Thanks to L.A. County’s ability to provide free testing, our team has been able to get tested on a regular basis, and we’re extremely proud of them for maintaining an infection-free environment to date. I’ve also pivoted the business in different ways to make sure that we stay relevant and connected to our community. From setting up a weekly dinner subscription program (Thai Thursdays), to special events like our Drive-In Movie Weekend, Mooncake Festival and Thai Moo Krata dinners, the pandemic has given me the opportunity to let my creativity and passion flow in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed of before March 2020. I’ve chosen to see this pandemic as a challenge, to push our restaurant’s boundaries, and, of course, to keep our team employed.

The Moo Krata Spread. Photo courtesy Ayara.

Q. What else would you like the community to know about your business? A. Thanks to our patrons making our last few Moo Krata dining experiences so successful, we’ve decided to offer a pre-Christmas dinner on Tuesday, December 15. Under the new L.A. County COVID guidelines, this will be takeout only. We’ll let you borrow our special grill with charcoal to create the experience at home—don’t bother with the cleanup, we’ll do it for you! Take some downtime for yourself before the Christmas hustle and bustle. 

Coming up in the new year and back by popular demand, Chef Vanda will be leading two new virtual cooking classes and registration is now open on our website.

Q. What are some of your favorite local businesses? A. This is such a hard question to answer because there are so many to choose from! But I’ll do my best to narrow it down. First, I love having an actual bookstore next to us on 87th Street. The Book Jewel, which opened just this past August, has been a breath of fresh air for the community. I truly admire Karen Dial’s can-do attitude in opening a new business during the pandemic and have heard so much positive feedback from their customers and visitors. I’ve actually already purchased a few gifts myself and will be back for more holiday shopping! 

Sometimes I have to remember that the one thing harder than running a restaurant is working a shift in it, and sore muscles and bones can unfortunately happen. Dr. Dilo at Synergy Chiropractic has helped me, my family, and our team for years, working out countless kinks and crooked joints. Team members have repeatedly told me how much better they feel after a visit to his office, which I’m glad is just around the corner from us!

Last, there are businesses in our area that also take care of some of the most important members of the family, our pets. Since he was born, I’ve always taken our dog Hac-Gow to Westchester Veterinary Center and Cat Clinic for all his checkups and treatments. 

Hac-Gow used to see Dr. Yoo, and when Dr. Krieger took over, he made sure we felt just as welcome.Although Hac-Gow left us back in July of this year, I can’t imagine not having Dr. Krieger, Laura, and the rest of the team there to guide us and give us all the medical and emotional support we needed.

Visit ayarathai.com to order takeout, for info about their special events and cooking classes.

Pictured: Vanda and her mother, Anna, pose in front of Ayara Thai in the Westchester Triangle.

Posted December 2020.