"Thai This" Offers Authentic Food on Wheels

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.

Brian Lawson grew up in southwest Virginia and has a history in the restaurant business.

In 2008, he visited Thailand and met Jang, who lived in a little rice village east of Bangkok. They married two years later and now run a food truck together, specializing in authentic Thai cuisine. Across the side of the black food truck is their message, “Our journey to satisfy all of your authentic Thai food needs, one step at a time.”

The couple began their mobile business in September 2014 and have been exploring Roanoke, Christiansburg and most recently, Blacksburg.

Their team of seven is led by Jang, the head chef, and Steven Widener, Brian’s best friend since elementary school, who quit his full-time job to run the truck.

“I’m so proud of Jang,” Brian said. “Seeing her become a businesswoman has been incredible.”

Since first meeting in Thailand, Brian and Jang have returned there five times. Thai street food, which is largely popular, inspired much of their menu. Their food truck allows Jang to maintain and share a taste of her home with customers.

“Food is such a big part of the culture,” Brian said. “We want to keep it as authentic as we can from what we can get our hands on.”

In an area boasting little diversity in cuisine, the couple has found a place in Roanoke that provides the fresh and exotic ingredients needed for their food. If they aren’t able to get fresh noodles for Pad Thai, a popular traditional Thai dish, they will not make it that day. Jang is committed to not compromising on dishes.

Menu selections vary per day, but consistently offer half spicy and half mild dishes to cater to a variety of tastes. All dishes are under $10 and are can be customized to three spice levels: medium, hot and “Thai hot.”

Options include coconut curries, wok specials, noodles and spring rolls. The couple even included their own dish they created together: the spicy pork rice bowl, which consists of slow-cooked pork, similar to American barbeque, in a spicy tomato sauce topped with a jalapeno and cilantro dressing over jasmine rice.

“We wanted people who weren’t familiar or didn’t want to try more ‘exotic’ stuff to enjoy it,” Brian said.

The business has been involved in charity events, caterings and festivals and hopes to continue to use the business to help the community. Scheduled events for this spring include the “Paws and Claws” Family Festival on April 25 to support animal welfare organizations and “Fork & Cork” on May 2, Blacksburg’s food, wine and art festival.

People of all ages and backgrounds come to taste their food, with some familiar faces that have become regulars. Brian recalls an elderly customer whose taste buds had become almost immune. They served her their hottest taste: Thai hot.

“I just saw her whole face light up – she was so excited she could taste something,” Brian said. “She comes back a lot now. If people try our food, they come back.”

Brian explains that some first-time customers were unfamiliar to Thai food and expected similarities to Indian curry or Chinese food. However, he explains that Thai foods are a unique blend of sweet, spicy and sour flavors. He recommends the coconut curry, a sweet but spicy and unique Thai dish.

 “I’ll let the food speak for itself,” Brian said. “It really is our motto: we want you to ‘Thai this.’”

Eventually, Brian and Jang hope to add a second truck or even open up a permanent location. For now, they’re focused on expanding tastes in the Blacksburg community.

“Being able to take Thai cuisine into a rural town like this has been awesome,” Brian said. “Even though we’re outside, we’re welcoming them into our home.”

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