From a cozy little restaurant in downtown Janesville, Beer Fitzgerald uses the flavors of her homeland to create her own recipe for the American Dream.
As proprietor of Sandee’s Thai Fusion, a Thai eatery at 12 S. Main St., Beer Fitzgerald specializes in the cuisine of her native Thailand. In addition to authentic dishes such as Pad Khing, Pad Kee Mao and Pad Prik Pow, the restaurant offers familiar tastes such as Pad Thai, mango sticky rice and all manner of curries.
An only child growing up in Bangkok, Fitzgerald learned to cook at the heels of her mother, Aree Saksukkulsiri, a former restaurateur who now manages the kitchen at Sandee’s. After graduating from high school, Fitzgerald earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and made her way to the States.
These days, when she’s not whipping up authentic Thai masterpieces for the hungry Janesville masses, Fitzgerald is spending time with her husband and kids, her Akita, Ozzy, and managing several real estate rentals.
Due to the current restrictions on restaurants caused by the spread of COVID-19, Sandee’s is limited to offering carryout and delivery. To order food, visit SandeesThai Fusion.com. To keep up to date on what’s happening at Sandee’s and for updates, search for the restaurant on Facebook.
1. Explain where the name “Sandee’s Thai Fusion” comes from. We named our restaurant after our daughter’s Thai name, Sandee, which means “very good.”
2. Aside from Mexican food, there aren’t a lot of ethnic restaurants in Janesville. What led you to believe a Thai food restaurant could be successful here? We just love the Janesville community. My mom has cooked food for her entire life, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring our hometown Thai food and culture to town.
3. Do you have a favorite Thai dish? I would say Pad Kee Mao, which is stir-fried, flat rice noodles with Chinese broccoli in sweet soy sauce, garlic and basil. I love the flavor, the softness of the noodles and that kick of spice.
4. Have you ever owned a restaurant before? This is my first restaurant. I was always around food helping my mom cook all the time. She owned her own restaurant for more than 20 years. I worked in a restaurant for 10 years in the United States before I started this business, so I gained a lot of experience in the restaurant industry.
5. When you’re not eating Thai food, what type of food do you crave regularly? Mexican food. I love to eat rice and spicy food. I think Mexican food has a lot of flavor. The homemade hot sauces and verde salsas are my favorites.
6. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I decorate cakes and make crepes. I do crazy things to have my kids and to work at the same time. Please don’t be annoyed by them when they are at the restaurant. They are my life.
7. Would you consider yourself more of an introvert or extrovert? I would consider myself more of an extrovert. I love talking to and meeting new people, and I am very outgoing.
8. Describe your background in the food business. I started out as a server. In summer 2017, I started making crepes at the farmers market and then started looking for a small place to start my own business. But it didn’t come easy that way, and since we found this place, we have all agreed to just do the restaurant instead. It was just meant to be this way somehow.
9. Do you have any hobbies or pastimes you enjoy doing outside of preparing food? I enjoy photography and decorating cakes. My models are my kids, and we always have a good time when we are making cakes and decorating them together.
10. Do you have a green thumb, or do you tend to kill plants? I am actually not that good at taking care of plants in my home. But I am happy that I have had my plants at the restaurant for two years now, and they are still alive!
11. What is the No. 1 item on your bucket list? Right now, I wish I could bring my dad, who lives in Thailand, over here so I could take care of him. Besides that, I would love to travel as much of the world as possible.
12. If you could meet any person in history, who would it be and why? I would love to meet King Rama IX of Thailand. He is loved and respected by many people, but he already has passed away.
13. If someone else paid for the experience, would you be interested in skydiving, or are you not much of a risk-taker? It would be fun to go skydiving, and I already know I would die in the air before I land on the ground (LOL).
14. If you weren’t in the food industry, what other profession do you think you would have pursued? Being a landlord and investing in real estate. I have some rental units, and I love to do fixer-upper projects.
15. Authentic Thai food is notoriously spicy. Do you find you need to tone down the fire in recipes served at your restaurant to cater to Americans? I know Thai chili is very spicy, but we use all kinds of spice to spice up our food. On some dishes, such as curry, I put in more coconut milk to tone it down.
16. I visited Thailand last year and learned most dishes focus on four main seasonings: salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Explain how this differs from American cuisine. In one dish, you will have to put a lot of seasoning and spices. When you cook it, it is more delicate, and that makes Thai food come out in unique flavors. I think the difference is that American cuisine is simpler to season and cook, but both cuisines have their own character and are yummy.
17. When I go to the store to buy ingredients for cooking, I scrimp where I can and spend more on what I need to. When it comes to Thai cooking, what are the ingredients on which it is never good to scrimp? You have to have garlic in most of your dishes. It costs quite a bit, but we always have it in every house. You also need jasmine rice, fish sauce, fresh chili and lime.
18. Are there any foods you don’t like, or will you eat pretty much anything if it is prepared a certain way? I don’t like food that has a strong smell, such as anchovies and shrimp paste, but durian is OK.
19. Are you a fan of social media, or would you get by just fine without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the others? I like social media to keep me connected to my family and friends. It also helps me advertise and spread the word about Sandee’s here in Janesville.
20. As a restaurant owner, is it all about the food? How much emphasis do you place on atmosphere, music and other aesthetics to cater to customers? First impressions are very important. Food is the No. 1 priority, but atmosphere and service are next. We want to make our clients feel comfortable, have them enjoy their food and have a good experience when they come to Sandee’s. It’s kind of a good balance of everything.
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.