First Sight of Success: Biography of Supenn Harrison


Who would have thought a young, inexperienced Thai woman could take her dream of working for herself and turn it into a chain of nationally known restaurants. Supenn Harrison did just that. For over twenty years she has been creating authentic Thai cuisine which has set the standard for local Asian restaurants. Supenn's success can be attributed to her hard work, her demand for superior quality and service, her knowledge and understanding of her target market, her keen business sense, and her caring personality. It is these same traits that will ensure her future success in anything she pursues.


The history of Supenn Harrison's success began in 1979 when she bought the Gopher Grill on Lake Street. The Gopher served hamburgers, fried eggs, meatloaf, and many other "greasy-spoon" specialties. Soon after the doors opened, Supenn realized there would not be great financial rewards in this endeavor. She threw away the fryers, installed a few woks, changed the restaurant's name, and began serving her native Thai cuisine. The Siam Café was born. There was nothing fancy about it. Just excellent food and service that delighted not only the palette but the other senses as well. Her unique combination of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty formed a loyal following of patrons.


Even though the Siam Café had proven to be a success, Supenn wanted more. She sold the café and in 1983 opened the first Sawatdee Restaurant. Located in the newly renovated Cardozo warehouse (now called Market House) in downtown St. Paul's Lowertown area, the Sawatdee built on the Café's success in a time when neighboring restaurants faltered and failed. It won four star ratings from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune thus confirming what the restaurant's patrons already knew. They expected the best Thai food, service, and atmosphere and the Sawatdee delivered it consistently. This location was eventually sold to Supenn's sister.


On April 15, 1986, the Sawatdee Minneapolis (602 Washington Ave - Headquarters) opened its doors with continued expectations of quality. An old warehouse once again became home to Thai architecture, traditional decorations, and the warm red, blue, and gold tones that by now had become a trademark. Supenn created a slightly different menu that offered a greater variety of traditional Thai cuisine than that of her popular St. Paul restaurant. The new location was an immediate success and has continued to grow each and every year. With its loyal customer base it quickly became the flagship of the growing family of restaurants. Its growing catering business has also contributed to growing profits, name recognition, and the Rollin Stones' waistlines.


Next, Supenn focused her efforts and resources towards bringing a new Sawatdee to Bloomington in 1990. Once again, warm Thai decorations and superior service welcomed new clientele and the business quickly grew. Supenn created a slightly different menu for the new restaurant after recognizing the area had different tastes. It consisted of a list of offerings that even Bloomington palates could not resist. This location continues to grow and has people waiting in line to feast on Supenn's unique and delicious lunch buffet. Supenn says not to worry because there is always enough food for everyone.


In March of 1994, another Sawatdee was opened in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. Hoping to capture young urban clientele it was named the Sawatdee Bar and Café and designed with this target market in mind. It offers a relaxed, inviting atmosphere that is perfect for meeting with friends or making new ones. The Bar and Café was met with some stiff competition but once again prevailed. Supenn has increased its clientele by incorporating ingenious methods to reach new audiences.  A few months after the opening of the Bar and Café, another Sawatdee was opened in St. Cloud. With its unique menu it has become a popular attraction to St. Cloud residents. Even though it is many miles from the other Sawatdee Restaurants, it still has the warm, welcoming feeling that Supenn's restaurants are known for.


The profitability and popularity of the Siam Café and the Sawatdee Restaurants have largely been due to Supenn Harrison's hard work, her demand for superior quality and service, her knowledge and understanding of her target market, her keen business sense, and her caring personality. Her focus on superior quality and service can be seen by her loyal customer base and by the numerous awards and rave reviews her restaurants have received; Best Thai Restaurant (the last ten years)/Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine; Best Hot and Spicy Food/Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine Reader's Choice Award; Best Thai/Minnesota Monthly;Rave Reviews/City Pages. Supenn also won the 1999 Minnesota Small Business Award. She has demonstrated her knowledge of her target market by the unique atmosphere and menu of each restaurant. Each restaurant has a loyal following of the intended customer base.


Supenn's keen business sense is evident in the profitability of her restaurants. She is constantly trying new things to encourage people to visit the Sawatdee. She has sponsored the Sawatdee Thai Two On 5K Run/Walk for ten years, developed a successful catering business, and has developed her own internet website to relay important information, upcoming events, and sell food items. In addition, she had a booth every year at the State Fair for over 25 years. Finally, her caring personality is evident in the work she does for the community, the close relationship she has with her employees, and the rapport with her patrons. Supenn Harrison is truly a woman of inspiration.