The Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant in Agat in not new but is now run by Ipan residents Marisa and Dan Wooster who took over the spot in the summer of 2017.
Dan Wooster moved to Guam in 1971 to work as a biologist. One year, his work took him to Saipan where he met his wife, Marisa.
It's Marisa who runs the kitchen - bringing into it what she learned from her mother from the time she was a young girl growing up in Thailand’s country side.
“I know how to cook Thai food … since I was young. My mom teach me how to cook,” she said.
The Wooster’s revamped the menu, adding personal favorites and found the best staff they could, they said.
“Not just anybody can cook Thai food,” said Dan Wooster. The husband-and-wife team said the built-in trust helped with scaling a budding business.
“It’s better than having a (business) partner that is not your spouse,” he said.
Marisa serves as the creative force behind the successful menu that has brought in a steady and faithful stream of customers.
“Yes I love cooking. It is my hobby also," she said. "I like to learn new things."
They view the southern location not as a hindrance, but as an asset.
“Location is ideal for customers,” said Dan. The proximity to Naval Base Guam means military and civilians looking for a quality bite are plenty, and they also have a, “huge local contingent that like the restaurant.”
From the garden to your plate
There is a lot to like at Lemon Grass: from the casual and comfortable open dining space, to the attentive service, to the cooked-to-order dishes with fresh basil donne pepper, ginger, and lemon grass, from the Wooster’s garden.
Fresh vegetables like eggplant, long beans, cucumbers, and kangkong (a type of water spinach found in Thailand, Guam and other tropical areas) are sourced weekly at the local farmers market.
Pad Thai and Panang Curry are their top sellers, but the pork chops dipped in batter made with fresh lemongrass and fried in a special high-temperature blast fryer are the show stoppers.
“They are world famous. Universal,” Dan said jokingly. “People talk about the pork chops.”
But by the looks of the steady growth in business in the last two years, people are talking about Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant. Period.
Dan said they serve between 50 and 60 lunches a day and do about the same for dinner.
“One day we had about 20 manamko' come in from the center. A few of them were regulars. But now they all are regulars and come with their families,” he said.
Marisa appreciates the repeat business and familiar faces are greeted with a smile and sometimes even a hug.
“Most of the customers are very nice and I enjoy serving the customers,” she said.
Worth the drive
As she expertly rolls spring rolls in the kitchen she recalls her many years on Saipan working in the now defunct garment industry. Life is better now she said. She remains calm as multiple dishes are prepared with the help of the staff and flow out the kitchen doors in rapid clip.
Dan, who can be found working a crossword puzzle or two at a side table after the lunch rush admits breathing new life into the Lemon Grass was his wife’s idea.
“I didn’t want to own a restaurant. She wanted to own a restaurant,” he said with a smile and nod to Mrs. Wooster.
Whoever’s idea it was, the establishment is delivering consistent quality cuisine that has helped them grow roots and pave a path for continued success in the future.
With so many delectable entrees to choose, not to mention creamy homemade coconut ice cream paired with crunchy sweet fried bananas for dessert, the Lemon Grass is a worth-the-drive destination or a great last minute stop-in if you find yourself in the area.
The Woosters said some customers make the trip on weekly basis from Yigo and Dededo and the Lemon Grass even draws chefs from a certain 5-star Thai resort in Tumon.
“So that should tell you something,” said Mr. Wooster.
But don’t take his word for it. Find out for yourself what all the fuss is about.