'Serial entrepreneur' entertains MPR 'Appetites' audience in Bemidji
Keng Dechawuth was host Tom Crann’s guest at an MPR “Appetites” event at the Hampton Inn and Suites. Crann is traveling the state this year to interview foodies for “Appetites.”
BEMIDJI — They know about his Tara Thai Bemidji restaurant, some know about his Puposky Pearl mushroom farm, and others are learning about his new Kin Asian Market. But many in the crowd of about 160 who attended Thursday’s Minnesota Public Radio event had no idea how engaging and hilarious Thamron “Keng” Dechawuth is.
Keng was host Tom Crann’s guest at an MPR “Appetites” event at the Hampton Inn and Suites. Crann, who also hosts “All Things Considered” on MPR, is traveling the state this year to conduct interviews for “Appetites” in front of invited guests.
Introducing his guest as a "serial entrepreneur," Crann extracted plenty of information about Keng’s growing food-related empire, but he and the audience got so much more.
“I think Keng’s enthusiasm is infectious,” Crann said, “and the fact that he has taken so many chances and they’ve worked out, it’s amazing. But he just seems to let life happen and make the best of it. And look what he’s done. I thought he was entertaining, he was funny, he was honest and real. That’s the best type of guest you can have.”
Keng, a native of Thailand, started his first restaurant in Fargo after following his wife, Farah, to study at North Dakota State University. He opened Tara Bemidji in 2016, later opened Wasabi and Slurp Ramen restaurants, then bought a farm in Puposky to start growing mushrooms, and recently opened Kin Asian Market at the corner of 15th Street and Bemidji Avenue North.
He has since sold Wasabi and Slurp Ramen to employees, a common practice in some of the 15 restaurants he has opened.
While explaining his entrepreneurial spirit, Keng had the crowd in stitches throughout the hour-long program.
Recalling his first date with Farah, while both were students at the University of Southern California, Keng said she told him her computer broke. “So I said I can take a look, and I spent two nights fixing it,” he grinned.
Asked about how he learned to cook, Keng said it wasn’t from his family. “My mom is a bad cook,” he said. “My grandma, she thought she was a good cook. No. So I didn’t learn anything from my family.” Instead, he learned from watching the chef at his first restaurant.
One variety of mushroom he grows on the farm is lion’s mane, whose white, shaggy strands resemble the hair of a lion. Asked why it’s called that, Keng said, “Good question, but I have no idea. I don’t even know what the word ‘mane’ means.” When it was explained to him, he said, “Thank you. I learned something. I thought it was coming from Maine.”
Keng said he opened the Kin Asian Market in order to introduce ingredients used at Tara to the community, but also to supply the restaurant with hard-to-find items. He said the name Kin means different things in different languages, but he liked it because “it’s three letters so it’s going to be cheaper to make the sign.”
Attendees were given recipes and samples of Spicy Mushroom Laab Salad made by the staff at Tara. Keng explained that in Thailand the word laab means chopped, and the salad included pieces of blue oyster and chestnut mushrooms from Puposky Pearl.
“It’s a balance of flavors between salty, tangy and sweet,” Keng said.
A portion of the interview will be posted online at mpr.org/mprconnects.