Atchana brings Thai food home to Coconut Grove

female chef smiling fish tank orchids
Atchana Capellini at her restaurant Atchana’s Homegrown Thai, Coconut Grove, May 2021. (Kevin Arrieta/VACO)

From “ugliest green building” to prettiest green trees — Atchana’s Thai food journey

“When people tell me I am the hardest working person they know, I say: ‘Wait, you haven’t met my mother.’” Atchana Capellini, veteran Miami restaurateur, fondly remembers learning from her mother since childhood. “I would watch her in the kitchen and later, she helped me run my restaurants.”

The mother-daughter journey in the kitchen has deep culinary ties not only to their native Thailand, but also to South Florida. In 1982, when Thai restaurants were scarce in Miami-Dade, her parents opened their first in Coral Gables. Atchana was just a teen — but already honing her skills as a chef and business woman.

Today, Atchana and her husband Stephen are sole proprietors of Atchana’s Homegrown Thai, the latest iteration of a family-owned eatery that’s been serving Thai food to loyal customers for over four decades.

Coming full circle

outdoor cafe green tree canopy tropical foliage young customers drinking beer
Atchana’s Homegrown Eatery in Coconut Grove, April 2021. (Courtesy of Atchana Capellini)

“The Grove has a deep history for us,” says the Coral Gables High School graduate. “I grew up here. Partied here in the 80s. All our friends are from here,” she says. “I met my husband years ago at The Village Inn when he was a rickshaw driver living on Kumquat Avenue.”

Atchana studied accounting at Florida International University, but after her father passed away, she stepped in more actively “to do what I already enjoyed doing” — help her mother and uncle run Siam Lotus Room in South Miami, a spartan one-story structure affectionately dubbed “Ugliest Green Building,” because of its exterior paint. “The ‘Ugliest Green Building’ in town looked motel-ish,” she said. “But it was a free standing space with a parking lot.”

It wasn’t just convenience and location that made Siam Lotus Room a Thai mainstay. Herbs sourced at her mother’s best friend’s farm in Homestead, a menu filled with Bangkok-inspired street food, and Atchana’s passion for the business kept the restaurant going until the vagaries of commercial real estate brought them to the Grove — and almost full circle.

Atchana’s East West Kitchen opened at The Mutiny Hotel in Coconut Grove for several years in the early century, during which time they also catered many events for the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.

Then in 2015 the corner space on Grand Avenue and Commodore Plaza became available. “The owners of Frameworks came to me,” she says. “Our kids went to school together. We’re friends. It was a case of neighbors helping neighbors.”

Atchana considered the new space full of potential for food and community. “I remember Cafe Europa growing up here,” she recalls. “Commodore Plaza used to be a restaurant row. Then it changed. But I think it’s coming back.”

Moving bricks and mortar to the Grove was relatively seamless because of loyal customers. “I’ve had customers that follow us not just from Siam Lotus but from other restaurants my family has owned over the years since the late 70s,” she says. “We all grew up here. Everybody knows us. It is a very Miami place. This is home for us.”

The al-fresco life

A 450-gallon fish tank in the middle of the dining room at Atchana’s Homegrown Thai pays homage to the old “ugliest green” location. But today, Atchana feasts her eyes on a different kind of green — Coconut Grove’s lush, tropical canopy. Her fans do the same with signature drinks like dragon fruit and lychee sangria in hand.

“During the pandemic, we created a beer garden style space, for social distancing, but before then, we had already become a neighborhood bar,” she says.

Change has been good, and doubly so. Atchana and her husband, now empty nesters, bought a house close-by. “Another case of neighbor helping neighbor,” she says. “The seller was a regular customer.”

“Now we’ll be true Grovites,” she says. “This is the most amazing, walkable neighborhood I know. I love coming here in the morning. I enjoy walking around the marina and neighborhood — so much of it is outdoors. The al-fresco life in tree-lined streets. It’s amazing.”

woman smiling illustration
Atchana Capellini (Nicolas Vásquez/VACO)

What is your passion?
“I love what I do. I’ve been doing it most of my life, and I could retire, but I enjoy being in the restaurant every day. Restaurants are my passion.”

What do you love most about the Grove?
“There’s so much that I love — the village feeling, the calm, tree-lined streets, the neighborhood, the locals.”

What makes the heart of the Grove beat?
“The people, absolutely. Whether it’s people who grew up here or people who moved here. The setting is beautiful but that’s nothing without the people. From the old hippies to the new New Yorkers coming in.”

What is your superpower?
“My ability to observe. I can read a room and make everyone feel welcome.”

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