Anyone who visits Grandma Wan’s Thai Mix Kitchen is just about guaranteed to be treated to a delicious meal and leave with a smile on their face, and a little extra spring in their step.
Grandma is Wantani Okuhara, a petite woman with a big personality and an even bigger heart, who operates her kitchen with its outdoor garden seating at 1128 30th Ave. W. She also has a food truck that she takes to special events.
“I just love what I do, honey,” she said. Grandma Wan calls all of her customers “honey,” and they seem to love it.
One of her regulars gave her a sign that said “Grandma Wan’s first Friendsgiving,” a popular take on Thanksgiving.
Recently, Grandma Wan’s earned a near-perfect health inspection. She was unaware of the report until a customer brought her a copy of a Bradenton Herald story, which she posted at her takeout window. Her business often shows up in Herald reader polls of favorite Thai food.
“My mom taught me everything. I have no recipes. I cook by measure and taste,” said Wan, who came to the United States from Thailand in 1973.
She moved to the Bradenton area to be near her grandchildren when they were very young. But as they approached their teen years, she looked to focus her energy on what she enjoyed doing most: cooking.
She operated her food truck on State Road 64 for three years before moving to her current location, and says the first year was tough, but she quickly grew a devoted fan base.
“I just love connecting with people. The more I see people, the happier I am. They become regulars and my friends,” she said.
Jason Spence had thought about stopping at Grandma Wan’s for several years before giving it a try.
“Now I come in every week,” he said.
This week, he brought Kathleen Barrett along.
“Jason has been raving about this place,” Barrett said. “I had the pad Thai and the Grandma Rolls (Wan’s special spring rolls). I got the mild and Jason had the medium.”
Before Spence and Barrett left, Wan asked to take a photo with them.
“Everybody smiles and take takes photos all day long,” Wan said. “My hobbies are cooking and flowers.”
She might also add to that short list making friends, and taking a personal interest in her guests.
“My grandson says you sell them food and you give them therapy for free. You should charge them for the therapy,” Wan said.
But Wan won’t have any of that.
“I feel the love and the kindness and it gives me goosebumps,” she said.
What initially attracts her guests is the menu.
Appetizers include her homemade Grandma Rolls with sweet chili sauce (two for $5), Thai chicken skewers with homemade peanut sauce (two for $5), fried rice patties with homemade pepper sauce (two for $5), and the Thai barbecue skewer ($5).
Soups include Grandson’s Favorite Thai Chicken Noodle and Grandma’s Favorite Thai Chicken Teriyaki Noodle Soup, both for $11.
Entrees, all for $12, include Chicken and Rice with ginger soy sauce, Garlic Soy Pulled Chicken with rice and salad, Ground Turkey Lettuce Wrap with rice, Thai Basil Stir Fry with rice, Thai Fried Rice, and Thai Noodle Chicken Salad.
Grandma Wan also offers daily specials for $12. The special changes with each day of the week. To go along with those entrees, she also offers Thai iced tea, Thai iced coffee and tropical smoothies.
Wan was the youngest of four children. Her father left the family when she was very young, and she gives her mother all the credit for raising her and teaching her how to cook.
“Many men wanted to marry my mother, but she refused. She had such joy when she cooked. I never saw her unhappy. She was such a strong woman,” Wan said. “I want to say thank you to my mother. She gave me such a gift. All I think about is making the food good. I don’t think about the money.
“I want to make my food pretty, tasty, and make people happy. When people come in, I want to send them away happy,” she said.
Grandma Wantini’s Kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and is closed Sunday and Monday. Note, she will be closed March 18-28 to spend spring break with her grandchildren.
For more information, call 813-476-2760 or visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GrandmaWan