Business Spotlight: Gig Harbor Thai Cuisine opens on waterfront
A Georgia Tech-trained engineer and a U.S. Naval Academy-trained helicopter pilot walk into a restaurant. And they buy it.
It wasn’t quite that simple, but the result is a new Thai restaurant on the Gig Harbor waterfront.
Chonnipa Katnitee (the engineer) and Lt. Andrew Schnur (the pilot) stumbled upon a then-vacant spot at 8825 North Harborview Dr. last fall. Ironically, they did so while taking a break from their quest to find space for a restaurant in Kitsap County.
In April, they opened Gig Harbor Thai Cuisine in the Finholm District space previously occupied by the Marketplace Grill.
Over the mild objections of Katnitee’s mother, a longtime restauranteur in the Atlanta, Georgia, area.
Growing up in a kitchen
Katnitee spent much of her childhood in Thailand before moving with her mother to Georgia. Her family operates restaurants in the Atlanta area.
As Katnitee puts it, she grew up in a kitchen.
Katnitee said her mother, knowing that running a successful restaurant is “a lot of work,” encouraged her to try something else.
Schnur said his mother-in-law figured “it’s a lot less risky to go to school and get a degree” than to start your own business.
So Katnitee matriculated to Georgia Tech, one of the elite schools in the country for engineering.
She moved west to work for Boeing after earning her degree. She and Schnur met while he was stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as a search-and-rescue pilot.
But the restaurant industry was in her genes, and her meals were getting rave reviews at home.
“I was not confident about making food until I met Andrew,” Katnitee said. “He ate everything I put in front of his face, and he was able to describe what he really liked about it.”
Eventually, both partners decided to change their professional directions. For Katnitee, food won out over engineering.
“It’s my passion, basically,” Katnitee said. “Even when I have a stressful day, to relieve my stress I like to be in the kitchen.”
Schnur said his wife has been “just beaming smiles” since they started the restaurant.
He’s changing course, too.
After 10 years of service in the Navy, Schnur is preparing to retire. He is currently stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in Bremerton.
“Both of us have run our course with our post-college degrees,” said Schnur, who is taking online graduate school courses in analytics at his wife’s alma mater.
It’s a busy time for them both. They have two children, ages 7 and 9, at home in Bremerton. Schnur is still on active duty, along with his grad school courses, and together they’re starting up what’s become a very busy restaurant.
Katnitee’s family history in restauranting has helped. She has a good grip on what customers will enjoy.
“I basically go with what I like,” she said. “I pick what I think people would like and what I like.”
Some of those are drunken noodles, son ton (a papaya salad ) and garlic chicken soup. Andrew’s favorite dish at the restaurant is larb gai (minced chicken with onions, roasted jasmine rice, fresh lime and cabbage).
All are heavily influenced by Katnintee’s mother. “What she really taught me is, you have to stick with authentic Thai food,” Katnitee said.
Gig Harbor Thai Cuisine takes off
The response has been overwhelming. The cozy dining area at Gig Harbor Thai Cuisine, with its views from the head of the harbor, fills up fast.
Many customers, perhaps exercising Covid-19 muscle memory, have been ordering take-out. It has not been unusual to have 20 take-out orders arrive around 5 p.m., straining kitchen capacity.
Katnitee and Schnur have been expanding and streamlining the kitchen to increase efficiency and serve more customers.
It’s a good problem to have.
“I’m not complaining,” Katnitee said. “People love my food … My mom warned me.”
Gig Harbor Thai Cuisine
Address: 8825 North Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor
Phone number: 253-432-4211
Menu: click here
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4 p.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m.