Old Weang Ping Village: Not a Business, a Sanctuary.

| August 2, 2013 | 2 Comments
  • 2 Comments
Old Weang Ping has been opened since 1983. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Old Weang Ping has been opened since 1983. Photo: Lauren Benichou

If you’ve lived in Oakland long enough, you’ve probably heard about Old Weang Ping Village, the worst kept secret in town. Located in a residential neighborhood of East Oakland, right behind Mills College, this little shack-like restaurant offers some of the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten. But after 30 years of running this little gem, owners Pat and Jook Sawanwatana are finally retiring. Does this mean the end of Old Weang Ping? Certainly not.

You can't miss the place. Look for the "Country Cooking" sign over the thatched roof. Photo: Lauren Benichou

You can’t miss the place. Look for the “Country Cooking” sign over the thatched roof. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Pat moved from Thailand to Oakland in the 1970s. He attended Lincoln University and got his B.A. in Political Science. After that, Pat took on a bunch of jobs until he decided it was time to do something new.

“Nobody was going to open a restaurant here,” Pat said. “I am the type of person who wants to do what nobody wants to do.”

The entrance at Old Weang Ping is covered in vegetation, Buddhist symbols and twinkle lights. Photo: Lauren Benichou

The entrance at Old Weang Ping is covered in vegetation, Buddhist symbols and twinkle lights. Photo: Lauren Benichou

The Sawanwatanas opened the restaurant in 1983. But this investment was not about making a profit Pat told me.

“It’s not only a restaurant,” he said. “it’s promoting the community and providing a place to eat.”

And you know he means it. The most expensive dish on the menu, including the specials, is $7.75. Pat never tried to promote the restaurant. He actually said that the busiest time he had in the last 30 years was after he registered the restaurant on Yelp.

Pat Sawanwatana is the owner of Old Weang Ping. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Pat Sawanwatana is the owner of Old Weang Ping. Photo: Lauren Benichou

“It’s not a business, it’s a sanctuary,” he said.

Pat was born a Buddhist. While that aspect of his education definitely influenced his views on life, he isn’t the religious type. But his agreeable attitude and his joie de vivre transpire through the homey decor and the comforting food.

Pat decorated the place. The result is this kitschy bamboo decor. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Pat decorated the place. The result is this kitschy bamboo decor. Photo: Lauren Benichou

To make sure you can actually enter the restaurant, you should call and let Pat know that you’re coming. It’s good manners and if it’s too full, Pat will let you know! Once in the front, you may have to knock at the door. Pat usually leaves it locked. Inside, a tropical jungle path composed of fake plants and Buddhist decorations leads to the main room, also lusciously decorated with kitschy bamboo walls and twinkle lights. Overall, it feels like your kitschy grandmother’s home.

The unlimited Thai iced tea is on the house. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

The unlimited Thai iced tea is on the house. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

The food menu lists the ingredients and it’s up to the hungry customers to combine them in whichever way they desire. Pick the meat or fish, choose the sautéed sauce from a list of eight sauces or simply pick a curry sauce. You may end up with something like this: roasted duck with sweet basil sauce; pad see ew with chicken; bamboo shoot, eggplant and mushroom in green curry with Thai sticky rice. In other words, the combinations are endless. But if you don’t feel like thinking too hard, you can also pick one of the specials. Some of the most popular dishes are the pumpkin curry and the roast coconut and curry prawn with Indian crepes. Oh, and did I mention the free unlimited Thai iced tea?

Coconut milk soup with chicken. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Coconut milk soup with chicken. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Vegetarian egg rolls. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Vegetarian egg rolls. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Roast coconut curry prawn with Indian crepe. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Roast coconut curry prawn with Indian crepe. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Traditional pad thai with tofu and chicken. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Traditional pad thai with tofu and chicken. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Vegetable combo with eggplant, baby corn, mushrooms and green beans. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Vegetable combo with eggplant, baby corn, mushrooms and green beans. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Thai sticky rice comes in a small basket. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Thai sticky rice comes in a small basket. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Every sanctuary needs a miracle-maker and that’s where Jook, Pat’s wife, comes in. I am careful not to use the word “cook” because she truly is a miracle-maker. According to Chris Peterson, the operator and, as of August 1, the new owner, Jook works with three burners, no timer and no measuring tools and she works alone.

“She is amazing,” Peterson said. “It’s incredible how quickly she does everything. It’s all accurate, fluid and always great.”

Chris Peterson is officially the new owner of Old Weang Ping as of August 1st, 2013. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Chris Peterson is officially the new owner of Old Weang Ping as of August 1st, 2013. Photo: Lauren Benichou

The fact that the restaurant has had a following for nearly 30 years, that Pat is an incredible man who built his own cabin in the woods and that Jook sometimes cooks for over 30 people by herself, Peterson feels like taking over the restaurant while retaining its authenticity might be daunting. But he is willing to try his best.

“Both of them are wizards,” Peterson said. “But this place is going to stay the way it is. It’s about balance.”

Peterson met Pat through a friend and they immediately bonded.

“I came in every Wednesday for 10 years,” Peterson said.” I also came for birthdays and special events.”

Pat says "it's all about balance." Photo: Lauren Benichou

Pat says “it’s all about balance.” Photo: Lauren Benichou

Pat and Jook had been trying to retire for years and they failed to find anyone to keep the “balance” that they worked so hard on maintaining. One day, Pat mentioned his retirement to Peterson.

“I didn’t think he was asking anything of me,” Peterson said. “Then our common friends told me that Pat would never ask directly but it was his way to ask.”

Peterson hasn’t work in a restaurant since he was 23 and he was, until recently, an elementary school teacher.

“I decided to call up Pat and I said hey, is this crazy? Should I be the one taking over? Pat proceeded to tell me all the horrible things that happen when you run a restaurant and then I said yes.”

Peterson gave notice to his old job in April and started training with Jook.

“If I mess up, Jook pushes me out of the way laughing,” he says. “That’s how I am learning right now.”

Don't forget to lock the door behind you. Photo: Lauren Benichou.

Don’t forget to lock the door behind you. Photo: Lauren Benichou

Peterson says that he has put out many dishes already and that people finds them excellent. They can’t see the difference.

So faithful followers of Old Weong Ping, don’t you fret! Pat seems to have chosen the right guy to take over the enterprise and maintain the restaurant as the peaceful sanctuary that it is.

Old Weang Ping
Hours: Tue-Sun 5PM-9PM
Cash Only!
6217 MacArthur Blvd (Between 62nd and 63rd Ave)
Oakland, CA 94605 [Map]
Ph: (510) 430-8771

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Category: asian food and drink, bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, economy and food costs, food history and celebrities, hospitality, local food businesses, restaurants, bars, cafes, reviews, travel

About the Author ()

Lauren Bénichou is a freelance multimedia reporter and producer from France and who has been living in the Bay Area for the past 8 years. Her true passion is sound and storytelling but when it comes to talking about food, food justice, or social justice, any medium will do. This nerdy audiophile also loves capoeira, sci-fi, fantasy, graphic novels an of course, zombies.
  • http://oakleafblog.blogspot.com Roger Jennings

    I’ve lived in Oakland for the past 50 years and have never heard of Old Weang Ping Village. Thanks for the tip! My wife and I will try it next week.

  • Emily_O

    I just love that you researched (and wrote about) this amazing couple and place in the way that you did — with heart, love, gratitude, amazement. It truly is a miracle / oasis in a neighborhood that many people shun out of fear or ignorance. My mother lived up the hill from Old Weang Ping and we came together MANY times over the years, since the 80s. I inherited her house and it is still the place i love to come the best. The picture of the crepe makes my mouth water just as if I was sitting in front of it about to have my first juicy bite!