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DeRusha Eats: Sawatdee

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –It's hard to imagine a Minnesota without great Thai restaurants, but that was exactly the world that Supenn Harrison encountered when she first arrived here from her native Thailand.

"I went to the University of Minnesota to study. Then I met my husband, fell in love and got stuck in the snow banks here," Harrison laughed.

She trained in education, and ended up teaching not in a traditional classroom but inside her Sawatdee Restaurants in town.

Pad Thai is a commonly known dish now, but not in 1986 when the Sawatdee on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis first opened.

"People don't know anything! They thought I was selling chow mein. I said, 'Sorry we don't have chow mein, we have pad Thai.' I introduced pad Thai and curry, and taught them to eat that way," she said.

Harrison's road to the perfect pad Thai started with an egg roll stand at the Minnesota State Fair.

Sue's Egg Rolls first opened in 1976 and lasted 25 years at the fair.

"It's my family recipe," Harrison said.

Opening in 1996 on Washington, her curries are a perfect balance of hot and bitter, sweet and sour and salty. She said her recipes have not been watered down to appeal to Minnesotans, although the spice level varies in order to appeal to different tastes.

"This is the food I grew up with. I learned to cook from my mother," she said.

She's transformed what used to be a Minneapolis warehouse with Thai architecture and grew her company to six locations today.

"At my age I have to slow down and stop. Now my daughters, two girls, are going take over the business and do that. I'm still around to help, I'm not gonna go away," she said.

Her daughters Jenny Reilly and Cyndy Harrison grew up in the restaurants, and are taking the lead at moving Sawatdee into the next generation.

"It's a lot. It's a lot of fun. Every day's different, meeting new people. It's great," Cyndy Harrison, said.

Cyndy runs the Maple Grove, Minneapolis and Eden Prairie locations.

"We're always trying to strive for authentic Thai cuisine and gear our food to each location," she said.

Their mom's legacy of teaching will continue as this new generation of Harrisons serve a new generation of customers.

And, after all the years, Supen said she's surprised the restaurants have had such a lasting legacy.

"I was going to quit many, many times," she said.

"I came back to the Twin Cities and here to make sure Sawatdee continues," Cyndy said.

Sawatdee is located at  607 Washington Avenue S, Minneapolis. For more information, call 612-338-6451 or visit Sawatdee online.

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