If you’ve driven along Hwy. 148 through Shawville, you have probably noticed a small yellow building with a red roof. There is a wooden veranda outside with many tables and benches, adorned with lights. The big blue sign near the road reads: Chez In.
When you open the door, you are greeted by traditional Thai music and decorations, a cozy dining space, and a friendly face. Beau Yawapan waits behind the counter ready to take any order with a smile.
Dan Wintle is the mastermind behind the homey interior and covered veranda, taking the building from a dilapidated shack to a snug eatery.
Behind the scenes, Chef In Yawapan — who has more than 30 years of experience in Thai cuisine — works diligently to prepare and cook all the authentic dishes. From soups and spring rolls, down to the sauce and her famous lotus cookies, In does it all.
The three Sand Bay residents opened Chez In in 2017. However, the journey that led to the Pontiac’s only Thai restaurant started many years prior, on the other side of the planet.
In grew up in Thailand, but never had any formal training to become the chef that she is today. She started her cooking career as a chef at a sort of convention centre in the mountains of Chaing Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. It was a hotspot for tourists, In said, and a single night’s service could cater to up to 400 people.
A typical day would see In arriving at markets for food at four in the morning, and prepping meals at 10 a.m. She learned to cook quickly and efficiently. In Thailand, food is usually served in smaller portions on several plates, meaning the culinary team would be putting out hundreds or thousands of dishes at a time.
After about a year working to serve the booming tourist industry, the two owners split and In continued to work for one of them for another 20 years. It was at the end of that time that one of the owner’s friends offered In work in Canada, where she has been ever since.
In moved to Canada in 2001 and began working at various Thai restaurants in Gatineau and Ottawa. Eventually her daughter, Beau, followed her mother’s footsteps in 2008 and also began working in Thai restaurants in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Manotick resident Wintle was planning for a move of his own. He purchased a property in Sand Bay, however he did not move in for another year.
“I didn’t really look at the area, I just found a place I wanted to go to. I liked this side of the river better,” Wintle said.
During that year in 2014, In met Wintle through mutual friends and they hit it off, and moved to the Pontiac together with Beau.
From there they began attending markets — starting with the Shawville market and moving to the Bristol Market on recommendation — selling the food In prepared to see what the interest was which, to their surpise, was overwhleming.
“It was the first thing I said to In, ‘We should check out the markets around here to see if people even like the food,’ cause it’s pretty new and we never really had anything like that [in the area]. Let’s see how much business and interest we get, and if it’s good, we’ll find a place if we get the chance, which we did.
“It was interesting when we had the market over there, it was crazy. People went nuts for it,” said Wintle. “People were lined up all the way down the road. They would come by boat from the river and buy like, 200 egg rolls.”
But while business was booming at the markets, In still worked in Gatineau and the move made getting to and from work both more hazardous and time-consuming.
“In the morning, eight o’clock I’d go, then [work] almost to midnight,” In recalled. Driving to the city in the dark was hard enough, but making the trip in the winter was even more dangerous.
“We decided to open a restaurant around here so she doesn’t have to drive back and forth,” said Beau.
They took over the restaurant on Hwy. 148 and did a complete overhaul.
“I tore everything apart; the flooring, the walls, the bathroom, the entryway. I built the veranda,” said Wintle. “We did everything, we bought all the stuff for the kitchen. It was a mess. It took about three months.”
They opened early 2017, and business has been going up ever since. Though it took a while for them to get off the ground, In said this year was their best on record.
“We opened up in February of 2017 and soon learned the winters are pretty slow around here … but it was popular enough for the area. Since then it’s gradually gotten better and better and we’ve gotten great reviews,” said Wintle.
“They love In’s food, she loves to cook, Beau’s pretty organized with things. All I really did was take over a place that was completely dilapidated and fix it. They’ve done well, and they both work very very hard.”
With the winter months being so slow and In and Beau running the restaurant on their own, they take a few months off to recharge. But when they reopen in the spring and get rolling in the summer, the two ladies often serve full houses.
“When we reopen, when we come back from vacation, people come back,” said In. “And when they come they say, ‘We missed you, we missed you!’”
In the future, In hopes to be able to sell frozen dishes and packaged sauces so Pontiacers can prepare Chez In meals at home. In will also be looking to hire more team members to help out around the restaurant.
“The two of them manage well, they cook for a full house two or three times a day sometimes in the summer. They manage it. Most people have four people to do that. We have two.”
The three of them invite everyone to enjoy authentic Thai cuisine, chez In.
“We thank you for coming to support us,” said Beau. “This is a big challenge for me and her. We’re going to be doing everything better and better. Just come and try our food, it’s not that spicy!”
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