The chef/owners, a husband and wife team, of the White Elephant Restaurant have been making wonderful and delicious homemade Thai food for as long as they can remember. Laddawan, or "Mae" (Mom in Thai) as the regulars call her following the lead of her children who are a constant presence at the restaurant either working behind the counter or eating alongside the customers, began at the knee of her mother. Peter began by helping with his family’s restaurant in Phitsanulok. Mae grew up in Northern Thailand helping her mother cook and prepare authentic Thai dishes for her 13 brothers and sisters and eventually for her own family of four children. She learned to cook everything from simple but delicious noodle soups to dishes full of complex flavors using spices, curries, and other classic Thai ingredients. One thing that never fails to be recognized by everyone who ever tastes her food is that it's just like Mom's cooking everywhere regardless of cuisine: made with lots of love.
Mae's cooking history in the U.S. began in 1986 when she first arrived from Thailand in San Francisco. She began working as a souse chef in many well known SF Thai restaurants including Marnee Thai and quickly became a head chef herself at Just Thai. Peter worked his way through the growing SF Thai restaurant scene as well, eventually manning the grill at San Francisco BBQ, the original SF Thai BBQ restaurant.
Their love of cooking and the restaurant business along with the pride they took in every dish that they sent out prompted them to take over Just Thai in 1994. Just Thai was located in the SOMA area of downtown San Francisco and served delicious homemade traditional Thai food for the neighborhood residents, local hard working lunch crowd, and dedicated regulars from throughout the city. Just Thai had a full and successful run until August of 2005, when it was sold to another entrepreneurial Thai family. Mae and Peter took their first break from working hard twelve hour restaurant shifts in their almost 20 years since arriving in America.
A short year later, Mae and Peter, fully rested to the point of going stir crazy, were eager to cook again and decided to open another restaurant close to their home in South San Francisco. They opened the doors to the Chang Puak “White Elephant Restaurant” in December of 2006. The legend of the White Elephant (Chang=Elephant, Puak=White) began in ancient Southeast Asia and was evolved in the region by the forerunners of modern Burma and Thailand (Siam). White elephants are believed to be something above an ordinary elephant and endowed with sacred power. As sacred animals they were cared for by Royalty. White elephants are never put to work, are fed well, and are cared for with the utmost respect. Most kingdoms of the region eventually ran out of white elephants, and the end of their kingdoms followed shortly. The Kingdom of Siam was the only nation where the Royal white elephants endured, and the kingdom continued to prosper and remained sovereign throughout the era of colonialism. The Royal family of Thailand continues to maintain a stable of Royal white elephants to this day, and the current King of Thailand, Rama IX, who has reigned since 1946 is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. Mae and Peter chose this name for their restaurant as a blessing for their new venture and to remind them to never make their customers work, to treat them royally, and to always feed them well!
Mae loves it best when she is behind the stove in the kitchen making delicious Thai food for her customers and family. Peter is always at the restaurant helping and giving a warm smile to his customers. The White Elephant is a true family run business. The restaurant is managed by their son Ben, their growing catering business in run by their daughter Samantha, Mae’s niece, Pat, has been their dedicated and hardworking souse chef since the days of Just Thai, and you will find many other family members among their cheerful wait staff. They all enjoy nothing more than seeing people enjoy their food. Mom hopes that her Chicken Noodle Soup gives you that down home comfort you crave when you can’t be at home yourself and that her Tom Yum Soup clears up your sinuses when you are under the weather.
As Mae’s daughter writing this, I can tell you that her food carries me through my darkest and hardest times. I know that with each bite and slurp, she sends me her loving hugs and kisses. I hope that you will choose to come in soon to enjoy her food, and I am certain that you will have this same experience when you do!