We had the good fortune of connecting with Zonya Saranya Dawson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zonya, what principle do you value most?
Everything you do, do with a purpose. My purpose for starting my own business has always been to be my own boss, to meaningfully support my family overseas, and most importantly to support and assist my own community. I believe you can have all the money and success in the world but if you did not care for your family and community it wasn’t worth it and it wasn’t enough. I grew up relatively privilege until we moved to the U.S., where I became my mother’s interpreter, financial advisor, sometimes lawyer at the age of 14. I saw the struggles and sacrifices my parents had to endure and I knew not only did I want to make them proud, but I also had to continue to support and uplift other immigrant families like us.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I started saranyacooksthai initially as a small scale catering/ private dining company. In early March 2020 when COVID-19 hit, everything on my calendar was canceled and I knew I had a decision to make- quit altogether or find a way to continue my dream. I chose to continue. In May 2020 I launched the saranyacooksthai recipe kits – think “hello fresh” for Thai food. I knew I wanted to continue to share my love of food and my Thai heritage with the world while being “COVID friendly”. The transition has not been without its road bumps and curveballs not unlike other business owners and entrepreneurs during these unprecedented times. Transitioning to what feels like a completely different business, starting over on a business plan, and ordering new packaging and equipment was not easy. Many days I have and continue to cry into my husband’s arm sobbing over the phrase “I AM SO DONE, SCREW IT”, and that is with my sales soaring, and receiving a warm reception from the community like I never expected. What I have learned from starting a business in general, but more importantly transitioning a business to match the needs of an ever-changing world is – keep at it. Some days you want to cry and quit while others you are beaming with joy after a good review or a large order. In business, like in relationships, I ask myself, “are there more bad days than good ones?” and if the answer is yes it might be time to reconsider but if it’s no, keep fighting, keep putting your entire heart and soul and into it. You deserve it and the world deserves to see what you have to offer!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Great question – one that I have had to entertain many times before. Most of my family and friends live in other states or overseas so I feel equipped to answer this one. A day in Denver with a friend from college? (pre-COVID) Let’s say it’s a Sunday, we must walk around the Pearl street farmer’s market and grab samples and breakfast Pierogies from the Pierogies Factory food truck. Then we head to brunch/lunch at Sassafras on Colfax, walk down Colfax heading east, enjoying the city. A midday coffee/ yerba mates at Buzz cafe, then Beet Box for some vegan pastries. Quick nap – I am a big fan of naps and usually, the altitude in Denver kicks everyone’s butt. Pre-dinner drinks (alcoholic and non) at Hudson hill, their pickled Okra is not to be missed. Pre-dinner, dinner if her food truck is up and running – some dumplings from Yuan Wontons. Dinner from Linger on the rooftop, save room for dessert because we can head to Aurora for Snowl’s shaved iced or to watercourse for vegan milkshakes.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to start off pretty cliche and thank my family, especially my parents. They are hardworking, tough, and persistent, qualities I see in myself thanks to them. I want to acknowledge my former team at the Asian Pacific Development Center. 3 years ago I was lost in my career and in myself, I didn’t know what I wanted “to grow up to be”, I applied for a job I wasn’t qualified for, and by some miracle, I was hired. For the first time since I moved to the U.S. (10 years prior), I had never been surrounded by such a diverse workplace, or community. This group of people were proud of their food, language, and culture, I had never been around anything like that in my life. They encouraged me to value and uplift all of my identities and challenged me to lean into the Asian/Thai identity that I had tried to conceal for 10 years due to fear my not fitting in. Through my years at APDC, I was able to find myself, the real me. I was able to work within a community of immigrants and refugees, not unlike my family, and felt more at home than ever. They encouraged me to start my business, share my heritage with others and the rest is history. I no longer work with that team but I will forever be grateful for their loving arms and continued support and encouragement.