Kazutomo Matsuoka wanted his son to learn the restaurant business from the bottom on up, literally.
“I had to sweep the basement,” said Tora Matsuoka of his first summer in the business at the age of 13. “Washing dishes was too good for me.”
Some 14 years later, the younger Matsuoka’s hard work has paid off as Tora is now the co-owner of Sen, the same Sag Harbor Japanese restaurant and East End sushi mainstay he once swept clean. Earlier this year, the 27-year-old also opened Phao Thai Kitchen, with business partner Jeffrey Resnick, who founded Sen with Matsuoka’s father.
Phao Thai Kitchen takes the place of Sen Spice, an Indian restaurant opened next door to Sen last year. Phao was originally located across the street from Sen, but closed in 2002.
“Jeff and I felt people wanted a faster, more affordable, sexier cuisine and Thai food is that,” said Tora of the decision to close Sen Spice and resurrect one of Sag Harbor’s most popular restaurants. “It’s a faster preparation, and more appealing to people during the hot, summer months when we are our busiest.”
Phao opened its doors in the beginning of April.
“The response was incredible,” said Tora. “We are so grateful for the support of our friends, family and clientele. We opened to a much bigger crowd than we expected, which proved people were looking for something a little different.”
Phao Thai Kitchen offers a number of mainstay Thai dishes, like chicken satay with peanut dipping sauce, fresh shrimp and vegetable summer rolls, wok charred squid with garlic chili sauce and sweet basil, Tom Kha Gai soup, Pad Thai, a crispy Tamarind duck, pineapple fried rice and several curries.
“I love to eat, so it is hard to pick a favorite, but the drunken noodles is a great dish not originally found on the Phao menu,” said Tora. Phao Drunken Noodles with Shrimp is a rice noodle dish with onions, peppers, sweet basil and chilies in a brown sauce that Tora noted packs just enough of a spicy punch without overwhelming the senses.
The company has also used the new launch to expand the catering leg of their business, incorporating a street food theme into their menu.
“A lot of great ethnic cuisine started out as street food,” said Tora, who said the catering business will offer carts and wok stations to their clients this summer featuring food from both Sen and Phao.
While just recently opened, Phao Thai Kitchen has become a place for the environmentally friendly to gather, the site of a Green Drinks event last Thursday, and this Saturday the meeting place for 725-GREEN, an organization of Sag Harbor residents interesting in pooling their resources towards creating a more sustainable village.
“My interest in this is we have been a part of this community for over 15 years now and we are not going anywhere any time soon,” said Tora. “The 725-GREEN movement is serious – the world should be more serious about this, and Gigi [Morris] has done a great job organizing people. If they need a venue to make this happen, we want to offer our services.”
On Saturday, May 9 at 4 p.m. Morris will host the green forum, which will focus on what the initiative has begun to accomplish towards making Sag Harbor a more environmentally friendly, and conscious place. An offshoot of Mayor Greg Ferraris’s municipal greening committee, 725-GREEN is aiming to tackle issues such as the inclusion of solar panels and other renewable energy resources in a historic village, recycling, the creation of bike lanes and educating the citizenry on the perils of pesticides, to name a few. Morris will speak, as will Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island and Russell Diamond of Solution Capital Partners.
For Tora, the focus on sustainability does not stop at offering meeting space to like-minded organizations. On Tuesday, he noted the restaurants are doing everything they can to reduce the amount of waste they produce – a problem he sees as widespread in the industry – by trying to recycle and reuse as much as possible, and use locally produced food products. Both are not without challenges, he said.
“Where we live there are not enough resources to do what we need to do with our recyclable materials,” noted Tora. “I see a lot of waste when it comes to restaurants so when Gigi brought this group up I wanted to jump in and help as much as I can, even though I know it is not enough.”
The restaurants work with a company that provides biodegradable bags for Sen’s significant take-out business in an effort to reduce waste, and Tora said they attempt to get as many local ingredients on both menus when possible.
“Really, the only reason we can’t always buy locally is if they can’t produce enough of what we need,” he noted. “We do support our local fish companies and farmers. We are also talking to some North Fork farms about growing some specific products like edamame for us.”
Phao Thai Kitchen is located at 26 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 725 4546.