Midtown business owner opens his doors and heart to everyone he meets
You’ll instantly notice the enormous mural inside Rice Box Kitchen in Midtown, an Asian Fusion theme, which is almost 16 months old. It combines the owner, (pro: pair-uh paul dam-ren-focul) Perapol Damnernpholkul’s intersection of past and present. His love of the Bay Area, with the Golden Gate Bridge and his new home on the other side of the Sierra, showing the Reno Arch and trees from the Tahoe National Forest. What’s bigger than the mural, is his smile. We literally “sipped tea,” while he fills me in on running a new restaurant in the heart of the Biggest Little City, during a global public health crisis. When he opened, he could only host customers at every other table due to coronavirus restrictions. I’m certain, you’ll encounter the same warm and generous spirit when you stop by.
“People always think the worst about everything, nobody ever says, oh my God Perapol, what if this all works out? What if you open three more restaurants! Nobody ever says that, they always go the other way, are you sure that’s what you want to do,” Damnernpholkul explains. He carries such a positive perspective: stop thinking about what’s going to go wrong, instead, manifest and focus on the limitless possibilities of success. While keeping in mind, if Rice Box Kitchen didn’t work out, he was just three and a half hours away from familiar territory and could easily make his way back to the Bay Area, adding, “If you don’t take chances, you’ll never know if it’s good or if it’s bad.”
Damnernpholkul is a Thai and a quarter Chinese, openly gay man who was born in Bangkok and moved to the U.S when he was seven. As a young boy, he lived in Maryland, Illinois, St. Louis, Wyoming, Utah and then California for much of his adulthood. “I always knew I was gay, it wasn’t like, oh I’m going to come out, it wasn’t like that. I never had to come out like, mommy I’m gay, just so you know.” That is a luxury, he knows many who identify as LGBTQIA+ don’t have. “There’s always help, you just got to find it, ask for it. My place is like a safe space, I have my LGBT flags here, people want to come here, leave your attitudes outside because this is a safe space. I don’t care what your religion is, your political agenda is and all that, but when you’re here it’s a safe space.”
It was a close friend that told him about our quaint mountain town. Lucky for us! “It was after my fifth visit here, I was like, I want to cook. I went back and I figured out what I’m most passionate about, what I needed to do to make me happy and it wasn’t design anymore. Everyone needs to eat, and I’m going to give them good food.” He explains his simple menu as “street food,” that comes in a box, hence the name. Resembling what we’d see walking the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. “I didn’t want to be another restaurant that does Pad Thai,” he states. He planted roots in Reno in September 2020. “Growing up Asian, my mom wanted me to be a doctor, or a lawyer, whatever, all that high recognition. Whatever! I went the opposite. I did the arts, I love design. Fortunately, my family is very supportive of me.” He visited and repeated what I have heard many locals say, “Reno could use more food choices!”
He says moving to Northern Nevada from the Bay Area and chasing this passion of providing good food, truly saved his life, “Reno was the light at the end of the tunnel. If I’m cooking, the smell of food, and just bringing food to people, everything goes away.” Powerful huh.
Check out the menu for yourself: https://www.riceboxkitchen.com/menu
Damnernpholkul learned his way around the kitchen from his mother growing up. He couldn’t escape the shift he felt in SF after 28 years, to make a move, as California was on lockdown, and he grappled with newfound bouts of loneliness, as he details, “We didn’t know there was going to be vaccines, we didn’t know there was going to be a second vaccine, boosters, nobody knew that, so it was a state of panic, and I was in that group of panic.” His panic and pain of declining mental health turned into a persistent purpose. His sights were set on Reno, he came, he saw and he’s still open, as we know many small businesses were not able to survive the closures and restrictions.
What a time we’re in right now. Our area knows the devastation of wildfires all too well and how Mother Earth is hurting from drought, pollution and other issues, not to mention inflation is barging right in just like covid did (major eye roll and deep…exhaustive sigh). You get a break from all that madness when you visit Rice Box Kitchen. I was immediately drawn to Perapol’s authenticity, kindness and confidence in his business. But also, I felt incredibly responsible for sharing his transparency about mental health and the message to anyone who is holding onto their “Rice Box Kitchen”- that dream that hasn’t been shared yet.
I’ll end with my favorite quote from our conversation. Trust me, this will be a post-it on my mirror for sure: “Don’t let things be too late before you realize what happiness is.” Do it scared, do it unsure, do it boldly! Whatever “it” is, your heart deserves a chance to experience the joy on the other side of uncertainty and fear. He’s the type of person that goes with his gut, so make sure you take yours…and visit. Raise a Vietnamese Iced Coffee as a treat to yourself along the journey, you deserve it.
Written by Tabnie Dozier
CEO & Founder ▪︎ Tabnie Dozier Enterprises, LLC