A colorful bowl of pho from the upcoming Blue Dragon Pho in Half Moon Bay. (Courtesy Sandy Thongsavat Potter via bluedragonpho.com.)
By Kate Bradshaw
"Humble beginnings." Those are the words Sandy Thongsavat Potter, a Laotian American chef and Half Moon Bay resident, uses to describe her background.
Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Thongsavat Potter's family later immigrated to the U.S.
They were initially sponsored by a family in Texas and then made their way to Merced. It was there in the Central Valley that Thongsavat Potter got her first exposure to cooking. To help support the family, her mom, a former professor, would sell Laotian food to neighbors, walking around the neighborhood and sometimes making sales directly through a window of the house. She's built up a business over the past several decades called The Papaya Lady.
Thongsavat Potter is taking the culinary skills and entrepreneurial spirit she learned from her mom with her into her next food-based adventure, launching a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Blue Dragon Pho, with business partner and Half Moon Bay entrepreneur David Oliphant.
The restaurant is expected to open in about a month and a half. The name is inspired by Oliphant's neighboring office, Blue Ocean Realty, and the significance of the dragon as a symbol of luck.
Thongsavat Potter had previously worked at Sutter Hill Ventures in Palo Alto and at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, but pivoted toward cooking and sharing her love of food and Laotian culture during the pandemic.
"The last couple of years…people have been struggling with mental health, with a lot of things happening in the world," she says. "If food can help make them feel better, I feel like my day has been made."
She quickly became involved in the Coastside food scene, launching Sandy's World of Eats, a pop-up that operated out of Breakwater Barbecue in El Granada, and working with Rebyl Food, a Coastside-based local food distributor, as a recipe developer and chef, offering meat and vegetable broths on that platform.
Her first restaurant, Blue Dragon Pho, will be located at 643 Main Street, the previous home of Gulino Gelato, which has relocated to 330 Main Street. It’s a cozy storefront where she can serve people through a pop-up window, she says. The setup makes her feel like she's come full circle, honoring her childhood spent helping her mother feed her neighborhood.
"I didn't know this was my calling, what I always wanted," she says. "Food has always been a big part of me."
The menu will be "mostly Asian fusion with a modern twist," she says. She's planning weekly specials, like crab spring rolls during crab season, and is looking to partner with El Granada’s Breakwater Barbecue to offer pho with smoked brisket. She's picturing nights with live music and locals appreciation evenings with special discounts.
The food will be "on the healthier side of things" and mostly local, she says.
"My vision for this place is to bring food, culture and love to the whole community," she says.
"I was born to do this," she adds. "I love it so much."
Blue Dragon Pho, 643 Main St, Half Moon Bay, Instagram: @bluedragonpho.