Meet Kat Vacharabul of Hangry Belly
When I was a small child my grandmother made sure that I was included in any kitchen activities, she was a small business owner as well. In the 80s she came the American from Thailand and opened up a Chinese restaurant here in Long Beach, back then Thai food was not popular so she had to adjust. Eventually, over time she would bring in Thai dishes to expose the community to Thai cuisine. My grandmother was a hard worker and enjoyed being able to provide great good to the local community, growing up I too loved being in the kitchen and cooking dishes for my family. As I grew older I knew that I was meant to be in the restaurant industry, I started my first job at 16 and this was just at a local Papa Johns where I learned the basics of food handling, leadership, cash handling, customer service, and many other skills. I spent my high school years there and branched out to different food establishments, I became a young mother at 19 and I knew I needed to advance my career quickly in order to provide for my son. At the time the economy was not doing so well and I let his father control my career path, I was influenced to go to school for the medical field rather than pursuing my passion. During this time I landed a job at the Disneyland Resort when I was done with the medical field education I was working in the kitchens at Disney, I absolutely hated my internship in a Pharmacy but I loved being in the kitchen. I decided to let go of the medical path and focus on what I was passionate about instead, I was no longer with my son’s father at this time as well so following my career with no one influencing my decisions was a blessing. I spent many years within the resort and learned so much from many different chefs, I also went to culinary school at Cerritos college under Chef Pierini and received formal culinary education. I moved up within the kitchens at Disney and after 8 years I was starting to feel stagnant and wanted more. My career at Disney came to an end back in 2017 and I was introduced to the small business kitchen industry, I became a partner at my previous endeavor but it came to an end this year during the start of the pandemic. I realized that I was destined for much greater and that I could do the same amount of work for my own business so I made a move and took the leap of faith and opened up Hangry Belly on my own with a little help from my current life partner. So far it’s been good and my main goal is to have the same happiness that my grandmother did when she was providing great food to the local community.
It has definitely not been a smooth road for me, being a young mother was hard on my career I had to turn down many positions that did not work with being a mother. I had chefs who saw me being a mother as a weakness and wouldn’t give me a chance, being a woman in the kitchen is already harder but being a mom just adds to it. I had to work harder to prove myself worthy of being in their kitchens. I also did not grow up in a fortunate family, my grandmother had to sell her restaurant when I was young to help my father out with child care because he too became a young father at age 19. Everything that I have now I had to work for and save for by myself, I was not lucky enough to have a business left for me, money, or space to open a restaurant like some restaurant owners do so Hangry Belly is my baby and I truly care about the outcome of this restaurant.
Hangry Belly is a gourmet burger spot with some loaded fries, my main focus was to provide burgers created with passion and unique flavor profiles that melt in your mouth. I spent years in my previous partnership trying to create menu items that were trendy because that is what my partners wanted but after a few years that was not what the local community wanted anymore. This is why I focus on listening to what the community wants and taking in as much feedback so I can stay relevant in the community and continue to be able to provide great tasting food for them. I am most proud of my Hangry Belly staff, my method of training is a lot different than most. You can have the best food items out there but if you do not have a staff that shares and understands the same ideas and passion as you then you would not have a menu that executed correctly and consistantly. So without my staff, Hangry Belly would not be what it is.
Personally, I define success as being happy, if you are not happy with what you are doing for work then you are not successful. I am a firm believer in doing what you love and love what you are doing because somewhere along the way people are going to notice it and appreciate it. Some markers I look out for are regular patrons, to me having regular patrons at my restaurant is a major success. My staff makes sure to look out for those individuals as well and we greet them on a personal level to create a bond that is more powerful than many people think and is often taken for granted.