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Heritage Eats off to a ‘fresh’ start

Thai Cafe’s replacement draws a plethora of customers, students and employees report

(JASMINE LIU/The Stanford Daily)

30 seconds — that’s how much time is allotted to prepare each meal on the busiest days at Heritage Eats, according to manager Chris Cutini.

Since the restaurant opened on May 25, it has served over 300 customers in just one day, surpassing the record set by its popular predecessor, Thai Cafe, according to Cutini.

The diversity on Stanford’s campus meshes well with the eatery’s culinary theme, which emphasizes quality and variety as key tenets to a customer-friendly service, as well as a “fresh-focused food ethos,” said Ben Koenig, founder and owner of Heritage Eats.

“When [customers] come to the window and we have lemongrass pork grilling and the smell from that emanates into the courtyard, people who walk up can tell they’re getting a freshly cooked meal, rather than [one] just pulled out of a box,” Cutini said. In a similar vein, social science research coordinator Grace Bennett-Pierre mentioned that Heritage Eats serves more vegetables than Thai Cafe did.

Because Heritage Eats opened towards the end of the school year, and is located in the basement of Jordan Hall, a “pretty out of the way” place, according to Kevin Duan ’21, many students and faculty have yet to discover the restaurant.

“It’s sort of in a place where people go in for classes and get right out because they have other classes. I’ve never noticed it, and that could possibly be because I’m always in a rush leaving the area,” Duan said.

However, the students who have lunched at Heritage Eats have generally enjoyed it.

“The line was super long, but the food was pretty cheap and good, so here I am again,” said doctorate student Anni Zhang, of her first experience at Heritage Eats several weeks before she spoke with the Daily.

Thai Cafe, the previous operator in that location, set a precedent of offering generous servings and affordable pricing before it closed last year. Heritage Eats has matched its predecessor’s price points, and is taking steps to make the experience more customer-friendly. Customers can save time by ordering from iPads stationed at the store’s forefront or from a mobile app. Unlike Thai Cafe, which was cash-only, Heritage Eats accepts card payments.

Currently, Heritage Eats remains unable to accept Cardinal Dollars or Meal Plan Dollars.

The restaurant also offers a new catering service for groups of 10 to 1,000 people. After submitting an online form on Heritage Eats’ website, restaurant representatives contact customers within 24 hours to discuss details, according to Koenig.

But Heritage Eats is also clear in its intent to be itself — to “not try and be anything but what we are and who we’ve been, and that’s three years of being existence as a company,” as Koenig said.

“We’re in no way trying to replace Thai Cafe — we have nothing but respect for who they are and what they did and what they were able to build — but we’re excited to sort of follow in their tailwinds and hopefully build on our success based off of what they were able to do themselves.”

Koenig founded Heritage Eats after backpacking through the Middle East and Asia in 2014, according to the Heritage Eats website. The experience helped inspire the restaurant’s multicultural concept, which is evident in the variety of its menu.

From hibiscus tea to shrimp tacos, Heritage Eats’ menu refuses to bind itself to one particular ethnicity or culture. Popular orders include the chicken tikka salad wrap and the banh mi sandwich.

“We have a little something for everyone, to enjoy something that might bring back a memory from childhood,” Cutini said.

The restaurant’s popularity has grown dramatically since 2015, when Napa became home to the original Heritage Eats. Koenig chose the city based off of its reputation as a Bay Area hotspot for dining and hospitality and easy access to high-caliber ingredients.

After gaining several years of experience, Koenig said, “the time was right” to begin expanding.

The Stanford location is the second in the chain, and a third is slated to open in Walnut Creek this summer, according to the Mercury News.

Heritage Eats is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays during the school year and 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays during the summer.

Contact Sarah Feng at sarahfeng55 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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