Eileen Kaewprasert: Managing a family-owned restaurant while in high school

December 1, 2022

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Credit: Nadya Chase

The Kaewprasert family manages their family-owned Thai restaurant, Spice and Pepper. Spice and Pepper is located at 236 Boston Post Road in Wayland, and the restaurant is open every day of the week.

It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night after a stressful week of school. Most high school students are spending time with friends, getting a head-start on homework or relaxing after the long week. However, senior Eileen Kaewprasert is busy running around, tending to tables and managing checks at her family-owned Thai restaurant, Spice and Pepper.

Spice and Pepper, located at 236 Boston Post Road in Wayland, has been owned by the Kaewprasert family for 12 years. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Kaewprasert works about 35 hours per week at the restaurant.

“My parents say that I’m like a manager,” Kaewprasert said. “We’re very short-handed right now, so I do waitressing, customer service, picking up the phone, taking orders and talking to customers when they come in to pick up food.”

Following the impacts of COVID-19, Spice and Pepper is short-staffed because of the difficulty of finding staff to work at the restaurant. Because of the issues with staffing, each member of the Kaewprasert family has had to take on more responsibilities in the restaurant.

“One of the cooks quit three months ago, so my dad has to go in and cook for the entire day,” Kaewprasert said. “We don’t have any waitstaff, so my mom and I are the people who waitress most of the time. It gets kind of chaotic, especially when there’s many customers at tables and a lineup of like 20 checks at the same time for pickups or delivery.”

While Kaewprasert enjoys working in the restaurant and helping her family, managing a full work schedule on top of homework and school has been stressful. However, she finds that her teachers have mostly been accommodating and understanding when she needs extensions on assignments.

“Because of the restaurant, I don’t have that much time to do homework,” Kaewprasert said. “Most of the time, I do my homework when I get home [at around 9 p.m.], and then that leads to me getting less sleep. But my parents give me time to do homework [at the restaurant] when there’s not many checks at the restaurant to do.”

When the restaurant is busy and Kaewprasert is managing several parts of the business at once, she finds that communication among her family is key to running the restaurant in an effective way. As a result of their communication skills and shared experiences from working in a restaurant, her family has become much closer and more understanding towards one another.

“I’m sure every family has their ups and downs, but most of the time, my family is up because there’s a lot of things that come into play when it comes to owning a restaurant and being able to communicate between people,” Kaewprasert said. “[Owning a restaurant] teaches a lot about communication and a lot of life skills that are needed in life.”

Senior Eileen Kaewprasert manages checks at Spice and Pepper. Because of the lack of staff, Kaewprasert has had to take on more responsibilities in the restaurant. “I do waitressing and customer service, picking up the phone, taking orders and talking to customers when they come in to pick up food,” Kaewprasert said. (Credit: Courtesy of Eileen Kaewprasert)

Kaewprasert has also found that the restaurant allows her family to showcase their culture through the food they serve.

“Thai food is very specific because there’s a lot of overlap with other Asian cuisines,” Kaewprasert said. “Thai food is very specific in how you layer flavors. You get sourness, sweetness or saltiness from different aspects of a dish, and you can’t just eat one thing, you have to eat many different things and mix it all together to see what works best with each [dish].”

Because of the restaurant, food is a major part of Kaewprasert’s life, and she would like to continue to work in the food science field after she graduates. Depending on where she goes to college, Kaewprasert also plans to keep working at the restaurant if possible.

“[Food is] something that’s a part of me, it’s something that’s really impacted the life that I have,” Kaewprasert said.

In Kaewprasert’s experience, managing a restaurant is entirely different from just working at a restaurant. While managing the restaurant, she has dealt with many unexpected situations, impatient customers and a tight schedule. However, she is grateful for all she has learned.

“The difference between working and running a restaurant is like night and day,” Kaewprasert said. “When running a restaurant, you have to take into account a lot of different things, like people’s work schedules, people’s school schedules, and people’s work ethics. You have to think about who works well together and who doesn’t work well together. While working in a restaurant, you just have to worry about doing what you have to do, and trying to get it done in a timely manner.”

Managing a restaurant has provided Kaewprasert with the knowledge of how to run a business, as well as other important life skills that she uses outside of the restaurant. With this experience, she is considering running her own business in the future.

“I have learned time management and professionalism, because even though I’m not at the restaurant [all of the time], I always feel like I’m representing the family and the family business,” Kaewprasert said. “It’s taught me how to manage my time correctly and what working in the real world is like.”

Kaewprasert has found that the most difficult part of working at a restaurant is dealing with stubborn people. She has had her fair share of experiences with rude customers and situations when she had to have her parents step in. However, she believes that the reward of managing a restaurant is greater than the challenges she has faced.

“If anybody wants to work at a restaurant or is going to apply to work in a restaurant in the near future, be ready to deal with people who don’t see your way,” Kaewprasert said. “A lot of customers will try to make you think that you did something wrong, when in reality, they are [misunderstanding] or are the ones in the wrong. Even with difficult people, [working in a restaurant] is really fun once you get the hang of things.”

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