On the Saturday before Christmas, Ott Pinbanj drove from his home in Everett to his restaurant in Ballard, passing three malls crowded with shoppers.
Twenty years ago, Ott's family created a different kind of holiday tradition by opening their restaurant, Thai Siam, to anyone who needed a meal on Christmas Day. Vhanthip (Nancy) Phokayasupatt, Ott's mother and the restaurant's owner of Thai Siam, has emphasized community building since the restaurant opened. She hosts annual charity events that benefit local organizations and there is now a devoted group of Thai Siam volunteers that has grown into an extended family.
Ott says that knowing his customers by name is equally important as doing good by the community: "It's a wonderful feeling when people know you everywhere."
The Christmas dinner is special because many guests can't afford to go to restaurants otherwise. Often, lines wind out the door and Thai Siam stays open late to feed everyone who shows up. For them, Ott believes, the feeling of being treated like valued diners is as meaningful as any Christmas present.