Home Made Lily’s Thai Kitchen | On the table

Kim Pravong describes herself as a risk taker. One tends to believe her after hearing that she acquired Lily’s Thai Kitchen with only a little experience working with a friend in a restaurant years ago and two visits to expand the place. “If I didn’t do it, I would never know,” she says. Pravong jumped with both feet in May, moving from Eureka to Willow Creek, where Lilly is located (40640 State Road 299).

There are not many Asians in the small mountain town, and Pravong has yet to meet any Southeast Asians besides the handful of family members who live and work with her. But she says the demand for Thai food in remote Willow Creek and the surrounding area is strong. “Basically, I like to serve the community,” she says. “People from Hoba and Orleans, come here.” Sometimes it stays a little past 8pm to accommodate those who have gone the long way for the deep ocher panang curry and soft, fluffy spring rolls stuffed with shrimp and lettuce.

Pravong loves the small community of Willow Creek and notes that a number of people she has just met have offered her help whenever she needs it. She says she is eager to give back and has already donated lunch to teachers at Willow Creek Elementary. “It’s really warm and everyone knows everyone… It’s really welcome here… They really welcome a new employer.” When Lily Vong opened Lily’s in December of 2021, it was a welcome addition in a town of just under 1,300 people, according to the US Census, with limited dining options and no other Asian food.

Pravong, like many Laotian Americans of her generation, immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, after staying for a year or so in a refugee camp in Thailand until she was 10. He grew up before moving a bit and back to Eureka. Without formal culinary training, Pravong learned Southeast Asian cooking techniques and recipes from her mother, in-laws, and friends. “I just pick it up from anyone who teaches me,” she says. “I receive it really quickly.” Recently, I learned some of Lily’s home recipes from Vong, although Thai fried rice and fried noodles are her own version. “Really hot,” she said with a little mischief in her laugh. “Part of it will change,” she says, as she looks at things that are popular with clients and what she can improve. “I’m still thinking about it.”

Pravong’s personal favorites go along with some of the most popular elements. “I love Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mau and red curry. Love all of it – and the pineapple fried rice.” She takes a minute to talk excitedly about how amazing a handmade eggroll looks when freshly stuffed and fried.

The restaurant is still only fast food, allowing Pravong to maintain a skeleton crew, but there are sit-down and takeout places for customers. So far this model is working with her and she says she has been able to pay her bills and herself with meager profits. However, Willow Creek’s dimension presents its own challenges for a Thai restaurant. “Ingredient wise, it’s really tough.” Sometimes when Pravong can’t get the special spices and ingredients she needs on her regular trips to Eureka, where they sometimes sell out quickly, she has to go to Sacramento or Reading.

Stocking and inventory errands are Monday, the only day the restaurant is closed, leaving Pravong with no real holiday days. The rest of the week, she says, she usually pulls 12 hours a day, comes in at 9:30 a.m. to start prep work and finishes her nightly cleaning by 9:30 p.m.

“But that’s okay,” Pravong says. “It’s something we love to do.”

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (he/she) is the magazine’s arts and features editor. You can reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

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