Thai a little kindness: Community rallies to support Thai Orchid after construction affects its business
Major construction on Center Avenue by the Moorhead Center Mall, where Thai Orchid is located, has drastically reduced their business. Day after day, night after night, the Osa family looked at a restaurant filled with empty tables and wondered how they could pay their mortgages and bills. How much longer could their business survive?
MOORHEAD — The Osa family didn’t know what else to do.
The Thailand natives had purchased the Thai Orchid in Moorhead nine years ago and put everything they had into the business. Patriarch Addy Osa was the chef, who used the authentic Thai recipes of their great-grandmother. Mom Pasorn made all the sauces herself. Sister Name was also a chef. Sister Anne managed all the marketing.
They had built a good business and even managed to survive the financial uncertainties caused by COVID.
But major construction on Center Avenue by the Moorhead Center Mall, where Thai Orchid is located, has drastically reduced their business. Day after day, night after night, the Osas looked at a restaurant filled with empty tables and wondered how they could pay their mortgages and bills.
"The income kept decreasing continuously and we didn’t know what to do," Anne Osa told The Forum.
Osa said the family had anticipated construction and the summer season would slow down their business, so they set aside money to deal with it. But by mid-June — when they were averaging just three tables per day — they had run through their contingency fund. "We started to ask for an extension for our rent and condo fee," said Osa, who is in Thailand to see doctors after contracting COVID last year.
Feeling desperate, she thought of something that her father had told them when they first opened their restaurant: “Treat our customers like friends visiting our home.”
“So (I) thought if we have trouble, just tell our friends,” Anne Osa said via Facebook.
Without telling her family, she shared a candid post on Facebook on July 29: “We would like to tell our customers that with construction in front of restaurant, which makes it difficult (to) come in, we are still open to serve you. The past 2 months have been harsh and were the worst situation for us since our opening. Please dine in to support us … Thank you so much.”
She included a picture of the empty restaurant.
Almost immediately, likes, hearts and care emojis began popping up.
Community members expressed their support. “This is hands down my favorite restaurant in the Fargo/Moorhead area … I would eat here literally every day of my life if I could! Please support this amazing business,” one commenter wrote. “It was beyond sad to see legendary haunt The Speak Easy go, and we won’t let this happen to you,” wrote another. “We need to get some take-out this weekend!”
The post was shared and shared and shared again. Community-minded groups like Moorhead Fantastic, Moorhead Proud and the Moorhead Business Association shared it, but so did countless individuals with a love and appreciation for Thai Orchid.
Osa had gotten busy with something else after putting the post on Facebook. When she checked it out an hour later, she couldn't believe it had already been shared 97 times. “I thought something was wrong with Facebook, so I turned on and off my computer but the share went to 126.”
Among the many who noticed it was Lauren Zima, owner of The Nines women's clothing stores in downtown Fargo and Detroit Lakes.
Zima’s heart went out to them, as she realized how difficult things had to be for the Osas to be so forthcoming about it. “Instantly, my heart sunk because as a business owner, no one wants to post something negative about their business,” she told The Forum. “I know it’s been hard with the pandemic and then the staff shortages and then the road construction on top of that. I know the struggles.”
Zima also knew she needed to do what she could to help. “I thought, how cool if we could reach out? We’re not that far away with the Fargo store, so we could remind our customers to just remember they’re here and it’s a great place to eat.”
She messaged the Thai Orchid on Facebook, saying she would like to buy $500 in gift cards to give away during the clothing store’s Facebook Live the following week and would offer 15% discounts to any customer who brought in a Thai Orchid receipt to the Nines. She also shared her plans to post about their situation on The Nines’ Facebook page, which has 30,000 followers.
“They were so happy and so sweet and they said they’d love to reshare my post after I posted it,” Zima says.
Zima and a few of her staff also had lunch at the restaurant last week. Besides having the “best Pad thai I’ve ever had,” she said she was gratified to see the restaurant bustling with activity. “We had goosebumps,” she said.
At last count, the original Thai Orchid post had been shared over 500 times and a follow-up post thanking residents for the landslide of support had reached over 85,800 people.
Before that fateful post, Osa said the family's situation felt like "drowning in mud," and the harder they struggled to get out, the deeper they sank.
"Once the mud got to our nose, a lot of friends riding horses came to pull us all up to be safe," she said.
If business hadn't picked up, they may have started closing for lunch and would have considered a temporary closure by October, Osa said.
The stress of the last five months has been hard on her father, she says, so he has stepped down as chef and now manages a duty he can do while seated: dishwashing. Her sister, Name, who worked for the Royal Thai Embassy for many years and was certified by the best culinary school in Thailand, is now the head chef.
In a Facebook thank you to the community, Anne wrote: "Since the first minute of our post until last night, all tables are filled and some customers had to wait for tables — something (that) has never happened during almost nine years of our existence … I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your support, every share, like and your orders.”
The onslaught of support has helped the family pay off past-due bills, Osa wrote on Facebook.
Osa adds she has been pleasantly surprised at how the community has embraced their family, even though they weren't born here. “Thank you for everyone for your warm assistance (that) makes our family feel so safe here and never feel alone, even if we came from the opposite side of the globe. Last, our family promises to do our best for you with every dish we serve … we love you all too much.”
And that's a story about how a community can come together to transform a family's heartache into a united demonstration of caring.
For her part, Zima says she fully intends to continue giving the restaurant shoutouts on The Nines’ Facebook page, so people don’t forget about them after some of the social media excitement winds down.
“It’s just really beautiful," she says, "to see how kindness inspires others.”
"We asked for help from our friends," Osa says, "and we now know that we have so many friends, very good friends who really cared about us and love us and we love them too."