Toronto - Wandee Young comes from humble beginnings, but you wouldn't know it by looking at her today. The owner of three of the most fashionable and favored Thai food restaurants in Toronto, Ms Young is a roaring success.
The author of a book called The Young Thailand Cookbook (with Byron Ayanoglu), she is constantly on local TV and radio shows, the topic of many press reports and restaurants reviews, and her establishments have won three Toronto Dining Awards.
Thai restauranteur Wandee Young
Born in Phuket, Wandee moved to Bangkok with her family when she was just a baby. Her mother ran a small restaurant on Rama I Road, near the National Stadium. While in Bangkok, Wandee met and fell in love with a Chinese-Canadian professor, who happened to be working in Thailand at the time.
She married him and moved to Canada. In the beginning it was very rough for her, especially when her marriage started to turn sour. She took jobs taking out garbage and skinning chickens for much less than the required minimum wage in Canada, while caring for her young son Serksarn (who today helps her run her restaurants).
Somehow, she managed to save enough money to open her first restaurant calling it "Young Thailand." The enterprise didn't last a year, but it started a wave that has resulted in Canada's favorite foreign food craze - Thai cuisine.
Next, Wandee went to work as a head cook for a restaurant called "The Bamboo." Although the restaurant catered to a Caribbean theme, Wandee was able to mix in a number of Thai treats creating quite a menu and following among the restaurant's clientele.
In 1990, she tried to go it alone again, and this times she met with success opening her "Young Thailand Restaurant" on Gerrard Street in Toronto, in an ex-student cafeteria near Ryerson Polytechnical University.
In 1993, she opened her second restaurant on Church Street in the heart of Toronto's business community, and at launch time it is so crowded you simply can't find a seat.
Many Thai restaurants have popped up in Toronto in the last few years and the best ones are usually run by people that have trained with, or worked for, Wandee.
Vinka Valentine, Khun Wandee's very able manager, says her boss, "Has a tremendous amount of love and respect for her country and King, and she wants to express this love and respect very much. She has succeeded in doing this by doing so well in business. She has pulled it off with a lot of hard work and dedication. She is a true emissary for her country, and she is simply a genius in the kitchen."
When Wandee first came to Canada she said, "It was so big, and so far away. I wanted to represent my country and show Canadian people my culture, and King. I miss Thailand very much, especially all the beautiful places you can visit like Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, but I am happy here and I am lucky enough to have become successful at what I do."
"Tastes that tingle on your tongue, and flavors that will excite your palate," wrote one reviewer. Wandee's spatialities include pad thai (a Canadian favorite, and available frozen in all major supermarkets), garlic shrimps (delicious), and spring rolls.
Ms Young, recently launched her third restaurant on John Street in the trendy Spadina-Queen area of Toronto. A sign on an outside wall of the eatery proclaims the restaurant to be the first Thai restaurant in Canada, and that's Wandee's trademark. This new location is destined to be a huge success as well because as one of her business associate's says, "Everything Wandee touches turns to gold." High praise indeed and entirely justified.
Update: Currently Ms. Young has three Young Thailand restaurants, all located in Toronto:
1.) 81 Church Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5C 2G2, (Tel) 416 368-1368, (Fax) 416 368-5220.
2.) 165 John Street, Toronto Ontario, M5T 1X3, (Tel) 416 593-9291.
3.) 2038 Yonge Street, Toronto Ontario, M4S 1Z9, (Tel) 416 932-2221.