Perhaps the only thing more unlikely than a thriving Thai restaurant tucked away inside an ice rink on an island 30 miles offshore is that its wildly popular maître d’ happens to be a nine year old girl, just getting ready to complete the third grade.
After 13 years in business inside Nantucket Ice, Siam To Go continues to defy the odds.The family-run operation is led by Bo Sasomsin and her husband Piya Phatthanaphuti, who both came to the United States from Thailand during their teenage years. But these days, the star of the takeout restaurant located off Backus Lane is their daughter and only child, Boya.
As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived more than two years ago, Boya and her classmates at the Nantucket Elementary School were isolated behind computer screens for remote learning. That’s when her parents decided one way to get her more socialization would be to bring her into Siam To Go to help them out, despite her young age. Little did they know she would become the main attraction – other than the Thai food and the snack bar, of course.
“When she’s not here, the customers ask, ‘where’s Boya’?” Bo Sasomsin said of her daughter. “She loves to talk to the customers, and they love to talk to her.”
These days Boya’s image adorns Siam To Go’s signage – from the tip jar to the spiciness scale of their sauces – and is featured on their social media pages to the delight of customers. Bo calls her daughter the restaurant’s “mini-manager.”
But even before Boya’s arrival behind the counter at Nantucket Ice, the popular eatery had carved out its niche in the island dining scene, serving up authentic Thai food, plus a whole lot more. While the average lifespan of a restaurant is just five years – and up to 90 percent of new ones fail within the first year – Bo and Piya have found the secret sauce to keep Siam To Go running for well over a decade now.
“We always keep the quality and the food at the same level – everything we make in-house,” Bo said. “We don’t go and buy processed food. We cut our own chicken, we cut our own beef, everything. The sauce, we have to go order special to make sure people can have good, real Thai food. What we eat at home is what our customers eat. That’s how we try to make it.”
There are pros and cons to running a restaurant out of a community ice rink, they said. While they’re difficult to find for people who’ve never been to Nantucket Ice before, they do have a captive audience of island residents who come to the rink for hockey and skating.
“For 13 years, we feel like we’ve become part of their families,” Bo said of the hockey players and their parents. “The hockey kids, we see them since they were three-years-old and see how they grow up and now they are in college. They graduate and they come back, and they still want the same food.”
On the flipside, Piya said, is the temperature.
“It’s always cold,” he said with a laugh. “Even in the summer, you have to wear a jacket. But it’s also a good thing. A lot of kitchens get really hot. We never have a problem with that.”
Bo is originally from northern Thailand, while Piya hails from the capital, Bangkok. Bo was just 15 when she came to the United States to study, and came to Nantucket where her aunt, Pat Thairatana, was running the former Lucky Express convenience store. She graduated from Nantucket High School, and got her first taste of the restaurant business on the island, helping out with the takeout food operation at the convenience store before it closed. But her culinary experience and the spirit of Siam To Go’s menu comes from her upbringing in northern Thailand.
After getting his green card at the age of 17, Piya came to the United States from Bangkok and settled in Virginia where he finished high school. He met Bo over the phone and the internet, and eventually made the trip to Nantucket to meet her in person.
Together on Nantucket, following the closure of Lucky Express, they were looking for the next thing. Family members urged them to look into a Thai restaurant, and with Bo’s connections at Nantucket Bank, where she continues to work to this day, they heard about the opportunity at Nantucket Ice to open a snack bar. The two concepts came together, and in 2009, Siam To Go was born.
While they rely on other family members and cousins to help them with the restaurant, it is primarily the immediate family – Bo, Piya, and Boya – doing most of the work. That arrangement has its ups and downs, they said, but it’s rewarding and brings them together – even if they don’t always see eye to eye on every issue.
“It’s a love/hate relationship,” Bo said with a laugh. “We argue, then we stop and come back to each other and talk.”
“We just try to make our business better together,” Piya said.