Arty Pattapong had finished his undergraduate degree in political science, and boarded a plane bound for the United States from Thailand in 1986.
With aspirations of working in politics, he intended to enroll in graduate school for a Master's degree in management. Then he changed his mind.
Pattapong, who had worked in a number of restaurants both before and after traveling to the United States, decided to follow a family tradition of owning a small business. He opened his first restaurant, Thai Gourmet, in Port Jefferson in 1997.
But his business isn't so small anymore. In 2007 Pattapong launched his second restaurant, Sabai Thai Bistro in Miller Place. And just this past March he opened Centara in Stony Brook.
"I worked in so many places," he said. "I realized my skill was to cook."
The location used to be home to Cosmos, a Greek restaurant, before Pattapong took over. Centara is named after a chain of five-star hotels and resorts in Thailand.
Pattapong has challenged himself to learn all of his customers' names and favorite dishes, believing that having a friendly relationship with them will keep them coming back. He wants his customers to have an authentic Thai experience, which is why he has not added any fusion dishes to the menu. He knows his demographic: targeting area families and Stony Brook University students, Pattapong said he has kept his prices reasonable.
After advertising in local papers, customers began frequenting the small Thai eatery right away after opening. The restaurant is busiest between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. each night, with a bustling weekday lunch crowd as well. Reservations are accepted for parties of four or more.
So far, Pattapong has enjoyed the experience of running a restaurant in Stony Brook, and said the combination of the college community and residential neighborhoods has benefited the business.
"In this area, the people are very open minded to trying new ideas," he said.
Check out our latest Centara review.