ST. CLOUD, Minn. — What once was the Thai restaurant Sawatdee in downtown St. Cloud has since become Arroy, a home to traditional Thai and Filipino flavors.
Co-owners Adrienne Donnel and Annie Meyer both previously worked at Sawatdee, but it wasn't until COVID that they stopped and thought about what they wanted.
"The pandemic happened. Once that happened and us having to sit at home and chill for a bit, it really made us reflect on our lives and wanting to figure out what that next step was," said Donnel.
What was next was buying out the building that housed Sawatdee.
"The building ended up being publicly for sale and we ended up buying the building in January 2022," Donnel said. "And we ran the restaurant as Sawatdee for about three or four months and then started a full remodel for Arroy in June 2022 and the rest is history."
The co-owners draw on Donnel's Filipino heritage for the recipes and a little help teaching the staff.
"I think it's like two weeks before we even opened. I'm like ready to rip all my hair out. I called my mom and three days before we actually opened the doors, she came to the rescue," Donnel admitted. "She came in, taught everybody. That day also made us make every single dish that was on the menu so she could taste test everything and give it her stamp of approval."
After that, Donnel and Meyer felt they needed to pay tribute and named one of their dishes after Donnel's mother – Bendana.
Some of the recipes that you'll find at Arroy are traditional family recipes.
"That definitely was the chicken adobo and the pancit. So I did not alter those whatsoever. Those are family recipes that are specifically from my mother's mouth. It is exactly what she taught me when I was younger and we were cooking for the entire family."
They say that although Filipino and Thai food are similar, there are some notable differences.
"What I noticed with Thai food and then Filipino food is that it is all similar but different. So same layers for flavor when it comes to having something savory, salty, sweet," Donnel explained. "But then Thai food is a lot more spicy, versus Filipino food is typically on the more salty-mild side. I don't think people realize how much of an art form Asian cooking is."
But Arroy is more than just a restaurant; Donnel and Meyer really want to cultivate the space into something more.
"I think we also created a space for Filipino people in this area," Donnel said. "So, what was really important to us with opening this restaurant wasn't only to just create a safe space for Filipino people and Thai people and Asian people in general but also to create a safe space for our queer community here; we are married."
"Everyone knows that we're not just partners, we're not just owners together. We are actually married, and we decided to put a rainbow flag in the window. Let's make it now more so known to the community 'This is what we are, this is what we stand by,'" she added.
Now the restaurant hosts drag brunches and artist showcases to highlight St. Cloud's queer community.
"I think that's a really wild thing is that we're more than just a restaurant. Which I didn't think in the beginning that would be possible. We're doing so much in one space," said Meyer.
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