When Chalunthorn “Yui” Schaeffer’s mother, Ta Triamchainon, originally asked her to open a restaurant, she wasn’t interested. When Schaeffer was a kid, she remembers her mother waking her up at 3 a.m. to help her make kanom krok for her small food business in Bangkok. Although Schaeffer had worked in the restaurant industry for years, the responsibility of owning a restaurant didn’t exactly appeal.
That hesitation dissolved when the pandemic hit: Schaeffer felt an obligation to take the step and dive into her culinary roots, to help support her family. “When COVID hit, I had to tell myself, ‘I can’t just be a server,’” she says. “We have to use your family ability.”
So, in August, Schaeffer opened a restaurant and named it after herself — Yui. It’s a fitting name, considering the menu: While much of the menu is reliant on Schaeffer’s favorite family recipes — dishes her mother makes her to this day — some are things that she just loves, from squid ink noodles made in the style of pad kee mao to creme brulee lightly tinted with green tea. “I put all my savings into this place,” she says. “So I picked the dishes I like.”
Schaeffer started her career in the food service industry working in Thai hotels, before her family moved the United States. Here, she worked primarily in Asian restaurants, eventually waiting tables in buzzy New York Japanese restaurants like the now-closed Morimoto in Chelsea Market and acclaimed restaurateur Masayoshi Takayama’s Bar Masa. Still, outside of work, she would spend her time asking her mom for recipes, or asking her to make things she craved from Bangkok restaurants and street food stalls. “I’ll ask, ‘Hey, can you do this?’ She’ll check out Google and figure it out,” she says. “I’m still a little kid for her, she still wants to cook for me.” One of those dishes was kanom tuay, a Thai coconut milk custard, she grew up eating every day in Thailand; she specifically requested her mom make it when she moved back to Portland. It’s now one of the restaurant’s daily desserts.
Triamchainon, who lives and worked as a Thai chef in Beaverton, visits her daughter’s Killingsworth neighborhood restaurant each week, helping with some of the restaurant’s mother sauces and chili pastes. Day-to-day, however, Yui is a one-woman operation: Schaeffer will spend her evenings ladling bowls of the pork rib soup tom zap kra-dook moo, sautéing Nicky Farms wagyu for a version of krapao, or tossing that squid ink pad kee mao with mussels and shrimp. “I love squid ink pasta, but I wanted it to be Thai style,” she says. “So I went, ‘Why don’t you use a seafood dish for those noodles?’” Still, one of the chef’s favorite dishes is the simple pad thai, made with house-squeezed tamarind juice she pairs with palm sugar. “It’s the way I eat it in Thailand.”
Yui is currently serving takeout in the former DOC space — Schaeffer formerly worked for Dayna McErlean at Yakuza, and McErlean closed DOC earlier this year — but soon she wants to open the restaurant to true dine-in; at the moment, she’s waiting on her liquor license. For now, she’s cooking away, happily stepping into the role she feels she was born to play. “People love my food. It’s kind of nice,” she says. “It’s in my blood.”
Yui is open for takeout at 5519 NE 30th Avenue.
• Yui [Official]