Food cart owner Nong balances life, work and play

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Articles - May 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013

BY EMMA HALL

0513 FOB LiveWorkPlay
Food cart owner Nong is expanding her business downtown and in Southeast Portland.
// Photo by Adam Wickham

Narumol Poonsukwattana (Nong), 33, runs one of Portland’s most famous food carts: Nong’s Khao Man Gai. Her cart has won the hearts of food critics and the business-lunch crowd alike, despite serving only one dish — poached organic chicken and rice wrapped in butcher paper, a popular Thai street food with Chinese roots. Nong moved to Portland from Bangkok in 2003, working at Thai restaurants around town before deciding to start her own business. She opened her first cart downtown in 2009; three years later, she opened a second center-city location, plus a takeout kitchen in Southeast Portland. Nong’s special sauce, known for its cult-like following, is available at New Seasons Market, the Woodsman Market, Uwajimaya and other grocery stores. Where does a food cart maven get her own lunch fix? “Eurotrash and the Frying Scotsman are two of my favorites,” she says.

FEELING THE LOVE

“What keeps me going every day is just customers appreciating what I do. It gives me encouragement. It’s not even about the money. I see that what I put in gets rewarded. Recently, Timbers fans voted on food carts to serve at the games. We got a really good response and we won. It was very busy, amazing energy. Work can be very fun.”

EVEN KEEL

“I do rock climbing. I used to rock climb a lot when I only had one food cart. When I expanded I didn’t have time. Later, I realized it wasn’t good for me when I worked too much. I couldn’t think straight. This year my team works on their own more often, and my role as owner has changed. It’s important for me to be there for my team mentally, so I try to balance my life better. I’ve gone back to climbing more often now.”

NEWLYWED

“I’m satisfied with what I have in life right now. About a year ago I married Scott; he came into my life at an unexpected time. I was almost giving up on having a personal life. Dating is hard, and I was so focused on my work. But he’s a good guy. I’m so happy I found a partner who gives me good support. I have a dog … life is good [laughing].”

DOWNTIME

“My husband surfs. He has a little cabin with his friend. When I went along I had nothing to do, so I went to a driving range near the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I was never interested in golf before. When I hit the ball, it just felt good, so now I’ve started golfing. I also love gardening. I grow my own Thai herbs, like basil and lemongrass, that I use in my Asian cooking.”

NEXT

“In the future, I’d like to see my product in every grocery store, even outside of Oregon. I want to have more products out, like hot sauce and a gluten-free sauce. One day I want to be a good, big business. But I started from just one food cart. I see the first little location where I invested a lot of time and energy, and now see how [the business] is growing.”

 

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