White Crane Creative Thai and Sushi, 819 S. Harlem Ave. in Forest Park, opened quietly last week. Bee and Sinchai Suptaveeying, the husband-and-wife duo behind the highly anticipated opening welcomed customers into their fully renovated restaurant space and began serving dishes born out of family ties and decades spent working in the culinary industry.
An eye-catching hand painted mural, featuring a sedge of dancing white cranes on a bright pink wall, anchors the otherwise subdued, yet modern dining room. The burst of color on the restaurant’s north wall serves as an advertisement of what White Crane aims to achieve through their cuisine.
“Creative is the key word in our name,” said Sinchai. “We are not just making traditional Thai. We like to add a creative touch on our dishes — like making Pad Khee Mao spaghetti or udon noodle Pad Thai.”
These subtle twists on tradition are at the heart of White Crane’s menu. A vibrantly colored crudo featuring an assortment of sashimi grade fish also includes the additions of both crunchy black salt and bright green edible seaweed called wakame.
“The black salt is the key ingredient in the crudo,” said Sinchai. “That crunch makes the dish.”
“My husband likes greens, but I like a little seaweed with my fresh fish,” chimed in Bee. “So we put a little of both in the crudo.”
The light and summery dish is reflective of the collaboration between the Suptaveeyings, but things are kept separate in White Crane’s kitchen. Bee handles all the wok cooking on one side of the kitchen while Sinchai makes sushi on the other.
Bee grew up in Nan, Thailand spoiled on her grandmother’s good cooking. Her mother also loved to cook and kept her daughter well fed.
“My grandmother and mother both loved to cook and had very special recipes, but I never wanted to learn to cook,” said Bee. “But when I came to the U.S. on a student visa it was very expensive to eat in restaurants. So, I taught myself how to cook Thai noodles to save money.”
The budget conscious cook blossomed into a chef and became part owner in a duo of Chicago based restaurants including Thai Spoon and Sushi in the Loop. Today, she is primarily focused on serving up a balanced array of traditional and creative rice, noodle and curry-based dishes at White Crane.
Sinchai, grew up in Bangkok, came to the United States in 2000 and has amassed more 20 years of restaurant experience. He started working as a dishwasher, worked his way up the culinary ladder and ultimately went on to train under Japanese sushi chefs in Colorado. He uses his education to bring colorful and creative sushi options to White Crane’s menu. Sinchai’s orange-hued “Tigger Roll” features shrimp tempura, avocado, masago, salmon, ikura and a generous sprinkling of wispy bonito flakes.
Though the husband-and-wife team have deep roots in the culinary industry, they purchased the Harlem Avenue. property as an investment in 2018 with the intention of managing the building for the owners of Mom’s Place.
“This was not plan A, but everything happens for a reason.” said Sinchai. “The prior tenant closed the restaurant because of COVID and we realized it would be hard to find a new renter so we built our own restaurant.”
Residents have been eagerly anticipating the opening of White Crane. While the owners are excited to have opened their doors, they are hoping the community will be patient with their young business. Because of the industry wide staffing shortage, the Suptaveeyings are alone in the restaurant for the time being. While they have friends willing to pitch in during busy times, Bee and Sinchai are doing all the cooking while simultaneously waiting tables and handling the phones.
“We didn’t know much about the community when we bought the place, but we are falling in love with the people here.” said Bee. “It reminds me of my small village when I was little. Everyone is working together to help people succeed.”
White Crane Creative Thai and Sushi is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.