Anybody familiar with Jollibee — a Filipino fast-food chain with a smattering of outposts in U.S. cities — already knows fried chicken and Filipino flavors make for a delicious cultural mashup.
Norma and Phil Thayer came to the same conclusion in a slightly more roundabout way: In the fall of 2014, the couple opened Valley Broasters in a Grain Valley strip mall selling Broasted chicken, an American trademarked process for deep-frying in a pressure cooker.
Fast-food copyists insist Broasting is the same method chains such as KFC use to create a crisp but virtually oil-free crust. As the Thayers’ Broasted chicken business was slowly building, Norma also began preparing dishes from her homeland.
She started with an occasional lunch for the owner who runs the Filipino grocery next door. Then the side dishes were available on the menu for weekends only. If American customers were unfamiliar with Filipino food, Norma offered samples — and many began canceling their fried chicken orders.
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“Sales during the week were flat, then they’d skyrocket. I knew we had something,” says Phil, an American information technology contractor who met Norma, a retired surgical nurse, when they worked in Abu Dhabi.
The food of the Philippines reflects Polynesian, Indonesian, Spanish and Chinese influences, he says: “It’s the original Asian fusion.”
Typical dishes include lumpia (eggrolls), pancit (a vermicelli noodle dish), sisig (a dish of chopped meat that is boiled, braised and fried), kare-kare (slow-cooked oxtail and bok choy), crispy pato (broasted pork shank) and puto (a steamed rice dessert).
Starting in January, as an increasing number of their diners began driving in from a several-hundred-mile radius, Norma added combination platters served on trays covered in banana leaves.
The restaurant’s operation is evolving into a family effort. On a recent Saturday, the Thayers’ three grandchildren play video games as a family friend watches over them. As the day wears on, grandpa Phil takes over, rocking one of the toddlers to sleep in his arms. Phil also keeps the books, and two of the couples’ daughters, Olivia and Adrianne, and a soon-to-be son-in-law, Brandon Boyd, work at the restaurant.
The family’s success has spurred a second location, Valley Broasters @ Manila Bay, 4800 Bannister Road. Opening this summer.