Its recipe for success? Heaping helpings of food and music

For years, Dara Quinn took her music on the road, sharing her love of it with others all around the United States.

Today, she shares music — hers and many others’ — at The Emerald of Siam in Richland on a daily basis.

Thai food and music have become a winning recipe at The Emerald through the years.

That’s why together, with her brother William Quinn, Dara Quinn wants to celebrate The Emerald’s legacy with the public. The siblings co-own The Emerald and plan to celebrate its 35th anniversary this month.

“It takes a lot of working hours. Sweat,” said Dara Quinn, who is known to put in 16-hour workdays. “There are people here who have a pretty good work ethic.”

The restaurant opened in the Uptown Shopping Center in October 1983.

“My mother, Ravadi Quinn, and my aunt, Sunanta Kulthol, got a small grant from their parents,” Dara Quinn said. “The place was originally Tammy’s Café. But this placed has morphed quite a bit, at least five or six times over the years.”

The walls are filled with local artists’ work that changes every few months. A new patio and awning went up out front this summer.

Eight years ago, Ravadi Quinn decided it was time to retire.

Dara Quinn, a Hanford High graduate, grew up in the restaurant. It had become a special place to her.

“I was a professional musician, and I did tour the United States for eight years,” she said. “Basically, when it was time for mom to retire, (William and I) could do one of three things: take it over, close it or sell it. But it would be like losing a family member.”

So taking it over became the obvious choice.

But Dara Quinn made one big change: add music, and a lot of it, to the restaurant’s regular offerings.

It’s a move that has paid off.

The Emerald of Siam was recently named the Tri-Cities’ Best Live Music Venue in a public poll; it ranked No. 2 for Best Nightlife Venue; and No. 4 for Best Asian Cuisine.

The Quinn siblings knew to leave the food alone, for the most part.

“People have been coming here (for) 35 years to eat the food,” Dara Quinn said. “The pad Thai is the most popular dish. Our butterflies are the best in town. They are an adaptation of a Chinese dish. Sunshine rolls are pretty popular. And our fried rice is made fresh to order.”

The Emerald has about 16 employees, most of them part time.

“And it depends on the time of year,” Dara Quinn added. “The slow time is August, and January and February can sometimes be slow too.”

William Quinn is the facilities manager, while his sister handles administration.

“I also am the chef when needed,” she said. “I’ve been training in the kitchen, so if I need to be the lead chef I can be. I enjoy cooking.”

The lead chef, Ma Vannapho, has been with the restaurant for 20 years.

He and Dara Quinn are always looking to tweak the menu.

“For instance,” she said, “we’re adding new items in October: fusion Thai tacos. But a lot of the menu items are the same items we served 35 years ago. Sunshine rolls are new in the last decade.”

But it is the food-music combination that makes The Emerald of Siam so unique.

“It’s a family restaurant during the day, a music venue at night,” Dara Quinn said. “It’s totally family friendly. Minors can be here until 10:45 p.m.”

Music isn’t completely new to the establishment. Dara Quinn said her mom “once a week, or on occasions” would offer mellow live music.

But Dara Quinn wanted more, if she was going to be there day in and day out.

“I started by using my connections through my music career,” she said. “Now people are knocking on our door all the time.

Quinn has had musicians and bands from such far away places as Jamaica, Ireland and Italy perform through the years.

“A lot of people from Portland and Seattle come over here to play,” she said. “It’s just a great stop for touring musicians. It’s a great location to catch them. And we have a very nice reputation with musicians. They like us.”

And there are many nights where Dara Quinn will join the bands or acts onstage.

The recipe has been open mic nights on Mondays, jazz on Wednesdays, and local and touring musicians on Fridays and Saturdays.

By her own estimate, The Emerald of Siam has more than 200 nights a year of live music.

Dara Quinn said one of the most popular bands that come through is Cold Hard Cash, a Johnny Cash tribute band.

But most of the music is eclectic and original music.

And that draws people, said John Roach, a longtime Tri-Citian.

“I’m a huge music fan,” he said. “I was raised in Pasco, went away to college. I lived away from the Tri-Cities for 12 years in Seattle, Montana and Maryland. I traveled the world.”

But like many Tri-Citians, Roach came back. He and his wife started a family. They have children ages 2, 4 and 6. Family obligations kept him away from The Emerald, but he and his wife are able to start coming back.

“Live music has always been a big part of my life,” he said. “Dara and Billy are still there. They’ve put in the work. … They have quietly – I think because it’s under-publicized – turned that place into one of the great secrets of the Tri-Cities. Sometimes the only thing that can restore me after working the corporate life is being in the audience during live music, where you can see the guitar player’s eyes. I’ve been needing (the live music). I’ve been craving it. So I go down there and I’m losing myself in it. I end up thanking Dara with immense gratitude.”

Dara Quinn said that sometimes it’s people like Roach who keep her going.

“What helps me is when people come up and thank me for what I’m doing,” she said. “They say ‘I don’t have to move now because you’re here.’ I tell them ‘Thank you. I needed that.’ It’s a quality-of-life thing. Because it’s a tough business.”

Cindy McKay said her first date with her husband of 30 years was at The Emerald of Siam 32 years ago.

McKay also has performed as a singer at the restaurant on the last Friday of every month, for 20 years.

“So it’s been an integral part of my life,” she said. “I definitely give Dara credit for the live music.”

The Quinns have planned a weeklong anniversary celebration in October.

On Oct. 15, Danny Barnes will have a dinner show starting at 5 p.m., followed by open mic night at 7 p.m.

Karaoke night is Oct. 16, beginning at 9 p.m.

On Oct. 17, it’ll be regulars MaryLou and Stevie from 6 to 8 p.m., followed by Jazz Jams at 8 p.m.

On Oct. 18, the restaurant’s usual Geeks Who Drink trivia competition starts at 8 p.m.

And then it’s time for the big blowout weekend.

On Oct. 19, there will be a 35th anniversary buffet, with the Badger Mountain Dry Band performing from 5 to 8 p.m., followed by the band Yak Attack at 9 p.m.

On Oct. 20, the buffet runs from 5 to 8 p.m., while Jeff Peterson plays. At 9 p.m., Dara Quinn’s own bands, DBST and Wabi Sabi, complete the weeklong celebration with performances.

Limited edition T-shirts will be given away that week with certain purchases.

“This is a gathering place,” Dara Quinn said. “And it’s definitely about community. We bring the community together with food and music. We have good food and good people here. And we like making people happy. I’m definitely not in it for the money.”

And that’s why people like John Roach love the Quinn family.

“She and Billy are fantastic people,” he said. “They have such integrity, and they do it for the love of music.”

The Emerald of Siam: 1314 Jadwin Ave., Richland; 509-946-9328; Facebook.

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