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Random Rochesterite: Annie Balow

One resident, numerous anecdotes

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Name: Annie Balow
Age: 35
Occupation: Entrepreneur
Where we found her: Café Steam

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You were in line ahead of me at Café Steam. What’s your go-to beverage? A lavender latte with oat milk. I’m lactose intolerant, so oat milk is what I can do!

Are you originally from Rochester? No, I’m from Thailand. I met my husband, Ryan, when he was in the Peace Corps in Thailand. We dated for two years, and then he was moving back home when he finished his program. We were in love, so I followed him! I quit my job and moved to Rochester with him 10 years ago.

Was that your first time traveling to the United States? It was my second time. I was in a travel program in college—I spent four months working at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells. It was a program for college students who wanted to learn English while working in the USA. I was even there in winter.

So you knew what you were in for moving here? For the first couple of years, I thought the cold and snow were fun. But now it’s like, oh my gosh! It’s so cold! But we do enjoy doing outdoor things, like hiking and exploring nature, in winter, summer or spring. Especially now, because we have an almost two-year-old daughter, and we like to take her to Quarry Hill, Whitewater.

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How’d you meet your husband? My dad. My dad was a working in government affairs, and went out on a field trip with Ryan and his co-workers in the Peace Corps. My dad knew I loved to learn and practice English, so when he met Ryan, he called me: “Annie, I want you to talk to this guy. He’s from America.” I had just gotten back from Wisconsin and had nowhere else to practice English, so I practiced English with him. And I thought, “This guy is fun!” We found out we think alike, we both love travel, and we love to do a lot of the same stuff together.

Did you get married in Thailand? We got married here, and then we went back to get married in Thailand, too. I just wanted to make sure that my family felt like a part of the wedding. I don’t want them to miss anything that’s going on in my life.

When we met, I learned that you own Thai Pop, which won Rochester Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant” last year. What’s the secret? We are strict to our roots—it’s the authenticity of our Thai food. On top of that, I think it’s also how we decorat, with things that make people feel relaxed. They’re not only coming to eat Thai food, but it’s for the experience. I basically put my lifestyle into the restaurant, and I love fun and vibrant color. I put myself into the restaurant, and I want people to see that.

Had you owned a restaurant before? No, this is the first one! But we’d been doing a pop-up at Forager Brewery for the last six years before we opened Thai Pop. We were serving a Thai tasting menu there, and it was so fun to get to cook and to see the reaction on people’s faces—to see them enjoy the food. That made me want to do more.

Where did you work in Thailand? I worked at the local hospital in my hometown. I was a medical lab scientist. It was really the first time I lived in my hometown.

What do you mean? My parents sent me off at seven years old to school. It was a catholic school, so you had to stay at the school. After middle school, I went to a different city to study high school. Then I went to Bangkok for college. When I was 22 years old, I moved back to my hometown, and it was the first time I lived there.

What do you miss about Thailand? I miss my family a lot. I have a big family in Thailand. We’re still talking almost every day; I’m so happy they have FaceTime now! I also miss the food, even though I’m cooking that food here. But back home, I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. It’s 24-hour street food, any time of day.

Have you been able to travel to see your family? My parents visited three years ago, before COVID. And we’re going back next year. It will be the first time my daughter will get to see everyone. I’m a little nervous to travel with a two-plus year old—it’s almost 25 hours travel time with stops.

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Scariest moment? Being in a different country, using a different language, and running a restaurant. I think that’s the scariest thing I’ve done. It can be scary not using English as my first language when I have to talk to the community. It’s not feeling confident enough, that’s what it is. But I feel so much better than when I started. I keep practicing every day.

Advice you live by? I tell myself every day: Live my life, enjoy every moment, and be nice to others. If you want people to treat you nice, you have to treat people nice. In my head, every day, I think this—treat people right, treat my employees right, and you get that back. I do the best that I can do in each day, and I enjoy every moment that I live.

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