I asked Cy about the timeline of Beyond, Taste of Thai, Cy’s Electronics, and the Oriental Food Market, because even though I’ve lived here since 1993, and even though Cy repaired my VCR in the mid-90s, I didn’t have an accurate recollection of which business opened first, and when. What I thought would be a quick and neat answer became yet another heartwarming tale of ingenuity and familial devotion. The food market happened first. While working at the poultry plant, Cy’s father dreamed of opening a grocery store. Keung had already been asking family members and neighbors what they needed from the oriental market and then driving to Northern Virginia to shop for everyone. The Ney family owned the property Taste of Thai currently occupies — it was a small shopping center that contained a pawn shop and a laundromat — plus a house and five acres of land that back up to Dogwood Drive. When the Neys decided to sell the property, Cy’s family bought it and opened the first iteration of the Oriental Food Market. Inspired by the products on their own shelves, the family wanted to open a little restaurant, so a ten-table Taste of Thai was born in 1995, after the pawn shop tenant vacated the space. Cy thought this was a crazy idea: why would anyone in Harrisonburg want Thai food? Even so, the entire family worked all hours, seven days a week, to get that tiny restaurant operational. As it turned out, everyone wanted Thai food, and people would wait hours for a seat. Cy teared up a bit as he recalled that period of time as one of brutally hard work and beautiful family solidarity. In the meantime, Cy had been studying electronics at Blue Ridge Community College and, being business minded like his dad, wanted to open an electronics repair shop. Cy’s Electronics went in adjacent to the market and restaurant. Sensing a need to expand the wildly popular restaurant, the family built a new, much larger market (the one that exists today, which also offers an ample selection of Hispanic foods), moved the groceries out of Taste of Thai, and expanded restaurant seating into the old market space. Later, Cy’s Electronics closed, and Taste of Thai now occupies the entire building, along with hordes of hungry people who fill the seats seven nights a week.
If that were not enough, the family decided to open a second restaurant. They originally purchased property behind Valley Mall but changed their minds when they saw the Water Street location, which had been vacant since 2005. Beyond Restaurant Pho and Sushi opened its doors in 2009, and most days, you can see Cy there, greeting guests and rolling sushi behind the sturdy concrete bar. Recently Beyond expanded its menu to include Vietnamese bowls and platters as well as Korean dishes. Both restaurants’ menus reflect Cy’s family’s history and their expansive knowledge created by a lifetime of diverse experiences. The food is rich and comforting, warm and bold; it will simultaneously carry you away and make you feel like you’re home.