It takes courage to open a (non-Italian) restaurant in Westport. In a small space.
But plenty of Westporters are glad that Darapon Wongchame — you can call her Dara, or Pook — did.
A year ago this month, the Thai native welcomed diners to Jeera Thai. Located next to Finalmente — opposite the old post office/aka the enormous and now shuttered Post 154 — it proves that a wonderful, authentic restaurant can succeed in a tiny space.
Pook does not have a lot of money to advertise (though she donates generously to every fundraiser that asks for a gift card or ad, and bought a booth at last summer’s Downtown Arts Festival). Success has come largely through word of mouth.
Because the mouths that Jeera Thai feeds love every savory bite.
Pook was born near the Mekong River. She came to the US in 1992, and helped her family with their restaurants in New Haven and Guilford. (Her mother — “a great cook” — taught her well.)
She laughs that she came to Westport for the shopping. But she found the people here “very nice, friendly, kind and helpful.” When she spotted the space available next to Finalmente, she did not hesitate.
Pook likes the location, on the busy Post Road in the heart of downtown. She trusted her instinct that her menu — truly authentic Thai food, not watered down for the American palate — would resonate with Westporters.
It has. “People here have open minds,” Pook says. “They travel a lot. If food is not cooked right, they know.”
Her customers are “smart eaters. They don’t just swallow things down.” Many are pleased that her dishes can be vegan, and gluten-free.
Pook uses “correct” herbs. She pays a bit more to import brands from Thailand. Other ingredients come from New York, where there is a robust Thai dining scene.
Much of her business is takeout. She also delivers via UberEATS. (It’s expensive for her, but she wants to make customers happy.)
There is seating for 30. Pook has no liquor license, but diners can bring their own drinks.
In just a year, Jeera Thai has become an integral part of Westport’s dining scene. Pook’s customers have made her feel welcome — and she loves them back.
Meanwhile, she has adapted well to our town. Like any local, whenever she craves a certain food, she heads right over to her neighbor: Westport Pizzeria.
(For more information on Jeera Thai — including the menu — click here.)