Baan Sawan, a mom and pop Thai bistro in Five Points, opened its doors last month after a three-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brothers Alex and Sam Suaudom reopened their family restaurant in January, coming back with adaptive and exciting new ways to run the business.
Returning with a more personal dining environment, a different menu each week, a small used bookshop and a growing record collection, Baan Sawan has been a crucial business in the Columbia community since 1999.
"When we first started proper was '95. Up on Assembly Street, we had a much bigger restaurant that we operated for about four years before we realized, 'This is too big for us,'" Sam Suaudom said. "So we closed that down, built this place and opened it up in '99."
Creating connections with their customers is a top priority for Baan Sawan's owners, so when the COVID-19 pandemic began, it created a disconnect with their customers. As a way to mend the relationships, Sam Suaudom created the Baan Sawan Wine Club, which allowed him to have a creative outlet to share his passion for wine culture with the community while creating that bar interaction wherever possible.
"Three years was a huge amount of time to take off and not practice," Sam Suaudom said. "So that started the wine club that I started about a year ago."
Baan Sawan has two separate types of wine packages that they offer, each having a different price point. In the middle of each month a theme is released, to which customers can order and pick up their wine package from the location.
Craig Brandhorst, a wine club member and regular customer at Baan Sawan, said one of his favorite benefits of the wine club is experiencing the personality in the wine package via added haikus, podcasts, music, food maps and recipe ideas.
“During the pandemic, it was just kind of a nice thing. We'd come home with our wine, and we could laugh for a minute. The little pamphlet or whatever would end up on our coffee table for a few weeks, and (I would) pick it up while I’m sitting around the living room and look at it, chuckle. It’s just a little bit of personality,” Brandhorst said.
Like his brother's wine packages, Alex Suaudom devotes significant time and energy to creating the menu for the week. He found that the menu now includes a better balance of flavors since the whole menu became vegan compared to having specific vegan dishes on the menu.
"We discovered that if we do the entire menu vegan, then we can do everything from scratch, from the ground up, that it makes it so much easier to handle that, and it is actually able to let me focus on other parts of menu design, which I found to be a lot more satisfying than I actually gave vegan cooking credit for," Alex Suaudom said.
Baan Sawan is only open Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. due to their detailed preparation and execution process. Alex Suaudom specified that Tuesdays are dedicated to planning, where the meetings can last up to four hours or more to design the upcoming menu.
"Even though we're only open two days a week, to do the prep that goes into those two days, I'm still working all day and all night Wednesdays and Thursdays," Alex Suaudom said. "We work all week to get those two days together. Then after that, on Sunday, ... I am just completely wiped out, exhausted, sore."
Originally, there were about 30 seats in Baan Sawan, but the owners decided to limit space after the pandemic and with a smaller service staff. However, Baan Sawan has started selling used books to compensate for the loss.
"We knew that we could not handle all 30 seats, so we cut that in half. Coincidentally, I've wanted a bookstore since college. Well, now's the time," Sam Suaudom said.
Sam Suaudom and his wife have amassed a book collection spanning genres over the last 10 years, creating a wide selection to sell. He said that some of the books have also come from donations and antique shops he visited.
“Everything here is still something that I want to read," Sam Suaudom said. "I still have the books, but now they're serving a purpose.”
Baan Sawan can be found on Instagram at @baansawanthaibistro, where they post their weekly menus, as well as on their website.