By Christina Whiting
For six years, Vida Bunchim has been delighting locals with a taste of Thailand. From her start in a mobile kitchen on the Homer Spit, to a popular restaurant out East End Road, she just expanded her business and opened a second Vida’s Thai Restaurant in downtown Homer.
Bunchim takes a lot of pride in providing fresh, home-cooked food and an ever-expanding menu. Her most popular dish to date has been Pad Thai, but her latest creation — the Vida Loca — is a chicken satay in a tortilla wrap filled with vegetables and a peanut sauce.
Born and raised in Bangkok,Vida’s father was a professional chef and her entire family loved to cook. Bunchim grew up mesmerized by her parents at work in the family kitchen. All of her recipes are family recipes that use fresh ingredients from the Homer Farmer’s Market and local grocery stores.
When she lived in Thailand, Bunchim made her living creating and selling jewelry. She moved to Los Angeles in 2003, and worked days doing Thai massage and evenings as a waitress. In 2008, a close friend who was living in Homer encouraged her to move north — and she has never looked back.
“When I got to Homer, I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been; it was like a dream,” she said. “I fell in love with how nice and kind the people are, and was comfortable here very soon.”
During her first year in Homer, Vida sold her jewelry at the Nutcracker Faire and Fireweed Gallery, and did Thai massage. When she saw a mobile kitchen for sale, she was inspired to follow in her family’s footsteps and get into the food business. Her friend Star Chow encouraged her.
“Star motivated me and bought the kitchen for me,” she said. “I don’t know if I could have done any of this without her.”
Bunchim opened her first mobile kitchen in the parking lot of the old Qwiky Mart on Ocean Drive, and ran it for a year. She served coconut soup, Pad Thai noodles, spring rolls, curry and fried rice. The next year, she moved her kitchen to the Homer Spit, settling up next to Coal Point Seafood.
In 2011, customers encouraged her to expand her business, and she opened Vida’s Thai Food just four miles out East End Road. This summer, she expanded again, opening a second restaurant downtown with a smaller menu and quick lunch options.
Bunchim said the most difficult dish for her to learn was Pad Thai, because it requires a precise water temperature to soak the noodles and a precise amount of time to boil them. Her favorite dish to prepare is a green papaya salad that she only creates on special days when fresh papaya is available. She also likes a spicy Thai salad that she prepares with chicken, meat or seafood.
“Thai food uses a lot of base flavors like basil, lemongrass and curry,” she explained. “I like to play with all of them.”
Bunchim has five employees, including her 19-year-old daughter Mook, who came to Homer from Thailand three years ago and now manages the downtown location. Mook is about to venture out to study cooking and baking professionally through the Alaska Culinary Academy at Alaska’s Institute of Technology in Seward. Bunchim said she is delighted her daughter is following the family tradition.
Bunchim continues to operate her mobile kitchen. Every year, she can be found at the Homer Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, Homer Council on the Arts’ Street Faire and Nutcracker Faire. This year, she ventured out to Salmonstock for the first time, and is now planning to sell at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, KBBI’s Concert on the Lawn and possibly the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in 2015.
Bunchim also caters special events, including holiday parties and weddings. Last week, she spent four days catering a wedding in Seldovia.
“I love to do catering,” she said. “I get to create special dishes and decorate them. It’s very fun.”
Wherever she is cooking, Bunchim believes in creating dishes from her heart, and considers her customers to be like family.
“People love my food and as long as they are happy, I’m happy,” she said.
While she would like to increase her customer base and expand her downtown location for the lunch crowd, Bunchim said she plans to keep her restaurants small and very local.
“What makes a successful business is being generous, caring and loving your job,” she said. “If you love what you do, create from your heart and always think about the customer, then everyone will be happy.”
Vida’s Thai Restaurant is located at 3585 East End Road — across from the Gear Shed — and is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for dine in. Take out is available by calling 299-7913.
The Pioneer Avenue location across from Don Jose’s is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Take out is available by calling 299-7912.
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