Arun Sampanthavivat was born and raised in Trang, a southern province in Thailand, and grew up on his parents rubber plantation with his eight brothers and sisters. He graduated from the University of Chulalongkorn in Bangkok, attended school in Hamburg, Germany, and later earned a Masters Degree at the Sophia International University in Tokyo. He moved to Chicago and received another Masters degree at the University of Chicago and began to pursue a PhD in Asian Affairs. Some friends asked him to collaborate on a joint restaurant venture. Shortly before the restaurant was to open, his friends abandoned the project, and the idealistic scholar became a working restaurateur.
So in 1985, Arun’s Thai Restaurant was born. He designed the interior and created an imaginative menu based on his knowledge of Thai cuisine that satisfied his own demanding tastes and those of his upscale clientele. He learned to cook, purchased the food, greeted guests, waited on tables, and balanced the books. In a short time, this valuable hands-on experience taught him all aspects of the food service business. In 1988 he brought in Rangsan Sutcharit as his chef and Arun’s own mother, Kanda, as pastry chef.
In October of 1994, Great Chefs were shooting their Great Chefs of America series for the Discovery Channel and while in Chicago, taped both Arun and Rangsan preparing Pad Thai as an entrée (episode # 64), and a Massaman Beef appetizer (episode #157).
Arun eventually moved from a small rented space, and built a richly decorated restaurant, that is now considered a civic treasure, and one of the best Thai restaurants in Chicago. The New York Times listed it as one of the 1,000 places to see before you die, in a book with the same title.
Next year, 2015, he will be celebrating his 30th anniversary. Congratulations to Chef Arun Sampanthavivat!