Thai-inspired restaurant to open in Damariscotta
There will soon be a new restaurant in Damariscotta. The O-Cha Bar & Grill will be located at 88 Main St., in the former Salt Bay Cafe.
The owner, Pongsakorn Hanjitsuwan, better known as Job, is the son of Chanint Hanjitsuwan, who, with his daughter, Thanyalak Rojpanichkul, owns Best Thai in Damariscotta, and if you’ve eaten there, you know the family knows Thai food.
But Hanjitsuwan’s restaurant won’t be serving Thai food. Hanjitsuwan has his own agenda, and he thinks one Thai restaurant in Damariscotta is enough, especially when it’s owned by his family. “The food at O-Cha Bar & Grill will be ‘Thai inspired,’” Hanjitsuwan said. “We’ll serve steaks and local seafood, some with a Thai sauce, and Thai-inspired tapas, bar and grill-style.”
O-Cha is a common word in Thailand. Hanjitsuwan, whose family were street food vendors, said it’s like an all-encompassing feeling of good vibes. “It means, loosely, good flavor, good food.”
Hanjitsuwan, who just turned 25, took over ownership of the family-owned Best Thai that opened in Bath after his father’s first restaurant proved successful. He was only 19.
Born in Thailand, Hanjitsuwan lived there with his mother and sister until 2007, when he came to Portland with his sister, to be with their father who had lived in Boston, then Portland, for 25 years.
Then 15, he worked seven days a week in restaurants in Portland. He said his father, who he calls a “hardworking man,” was struggling to make ends meet. “He came here because my family was poor, and he felt there were good opportunities here. He sent money to my mother in Thailand to help feed us.
“And he hoped that his kids would learn to achieve more in life.”
One day in 2011, his father got a call from his brother-in-law, Stephen Heald, telling him he should come up to Damariscotta to look at space for a restaurant that was for sale.
Hanjitsuwan was just about to graduate from high school, and didn’t know what he wanted to do after graduation, so he moved to Damariscotta with his father. “My father took a chance. We really felt we had nothing to lose at that point,” Hanjitsuwan said.
Claiming he’s lazy, Hanjitsuwan appears to be everything but. He doesn’t think of himself as an entrepreneur, but between running his restaurant in Bath, owning and managing rental property in Portland, and now getting his new restaurant ready, he keeps busy.
He became reflective and philosophical when he spoke about his new endeavor, saying it’s important for him to continue to grow. “This will be a big challenge for me. It will be something that I will create on my own, versus Best Thai (in Bath) where I took over from my father. I can’t wait to open.”
“I want my story to help influence and motivate others, including my friends back in Thailand and Portland who aren’t really going anywhere in life.
“I’m doing well for myself, but though I really don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur, I’m interested in investing in anything that will bring new opportunities to make a better life for myself. That’s my number one goal – to be really, really successful.
Hanjitsuwan loves Damariscotta. “That’s where I found myself making new connections and talking to people. I really love the people here. They are very kind. It is like nowhere else.”
He tries to go back to Thailand every year to visit, but with all he has going on now, it will be difficult this year. “But I’ll find the time. You’ve got to work hard, but you’ve got to play hard too.”
Every Thai child is given a nickname at birth. Hanjitsuwan said his father wanted him to be a hardworking man, hence the nickname, Job. “But I’m really not hardworking. I’m a lazy person, but I get things done. If you ask a lazy person to do the hardest job, he’ll get things done in the shortest time possible. That’s me. I get stuff done.”
Hanjitsuwan hopes to open O-Cha Bar & Grill by the end of December.
Jason Simmonds will manage the restaurant. Hanjitsuwan is on the lookout for a chef and waitstaff.