When Pat and Sopidta Murphy opened Chiang Mai Thai Kitchen in downtown Victor, Idaho, last June, they anticipated on question: why did Teton Valley, Idaho, need a third Thai restaurant?
“We prepped for that question because we knew people were going to ask,” says Pat, who together with his wife, Sopidta, owns the restaurant and prepares all the food. “We serve northern Thai food. It’s the food Sopidta grew up cooking with her mother. There’s a lot of veggies, more protein, and very little coconut milk.”
According to the Murphys, most of the Thai food Americans are familiar with originates in central Thailand and the area around Bangkok. That food relies heavily on coconut milk, curries, and rice, using sauces and spices to get people to eat a lot of rice with small servings of vegetables and proteins. In the north, where Sopidta was raised, people have large gardens and raise farm animals. As a result, the food tends to be built around vegetables, herbs, and protein rather than rice.
“Thai food from Bangkok and the central part of the country is what Americans know and it works,” Sopidta says. “People like it. But we wanted to introduce our customers to a different kind of Thai cooking.”
The Murphys met during an orientation meeting at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole in 2011. Sopidta was in the U.S. on a J-1 Visa. She’d never heard of Wyoming and had never seen snow when she was offered the job, but she was looking for an adventure. On day one, she met Pat and, as he tells it, they haven’t been apart since.
Pat was a chef working in Philadelphia before he came west to try his hand at the Four Seasons Resort. He and Sopidta, who married in 2013, worked at the resort for a year before heading north to Alaska to take jobs at a fly-in fishing lodge.
“We returned to the Tetons and thought we’d take a year off to ski bum,” Pat says. “Then we saw an advertisement for a winter farmers’ market at MD Nursery. We asked if we could have a booth to sell Thai food. It turned out to be really popular. A month or so later we were driving through Victor and saw a ‘for rent’ sign in this space. And the next thing you know we’re opening a restaurant. We never had any grand plans for opening a restaurant. Guess you have to say it was pretty spontaneous.”
Getting Chiang Mai ready for business was a community effort. A friend painted a mural of bamboo on one wall, while another friend built a partition with recycled pallets. Pat’s sister, Shannon Begley, even moved from Pennsylvania to help out.
The Murphys traveled to Thailand to buy decorations for the restaurant and so Sopidta could harvest chilies and lime leaves with her mother. She uses them to make the pastes and powders that go into the restaurant’s food.
“We bring back most of our ingredients from Thailand,” Sopidta says. “You can’t get them here.”
Opening Chiang Mai meant the Murphys never got their ski bum season, but they still get out to ski and enjoy the outdoors as often as they can. And their unassuming little restaurant on the north side of Victor is hopping with happy, well-fed customers.