White Lotus Cafe & Diner is one of Dayton’s best-kept secrets
By Ginny McCabe
White Lotus Café & Diner, also affectionately known as “White Lotus/Yummy Burger,” is one of Dayton’s best-kept secrets. Inside Dining made a couple of trips downtown to visit Dayton’s popular “hot spot.” Enjoying the food and company, I spent time (in between customers) with the owner, Yong Shoop of Vandalia.
A native of Thailand Shoop came to United States in 1972, and before opening White Lotus/Yummy Burger in 2008 she spent many years in the catering industry overseeing a kitchen crew, and as a bartender, server and banquet manager at Lily’s Catering. Shoop says she first learned how to cook her signature Thai dishes upon buying the restaurant.
“I never cooked Thai food in my life until I got here … I learned it day by day. I put this together and that together and then I’d taste it,” Shoop says.
In addition to the variety of menu options, another surprising factor is that Shoop does everything herself—from growing some of her own ingredients and the food preparation to cooking and waiting on customers.
“I work six days a week, about 14 hours a day,” Shoop says. “There’s a lot to be done. I’m always on the go,” she says.
A few of her favorite dishes to create include Green Curry and Lab Kai. She says Pad Thai and Chicken Chili with Basil are a few of the most popular dishes she serves.
“I love to do this. I wanted to do it for fun. I have a good time and I enjoy the job. I hope I can do it for a long time,” Shoop says.
I first stopped in on a weeknight, less than an hour before closing. I ordered the Chicken Pad Thai. I sat at the counter, near the end, facing the grill. Within minutes, I introduced myself to a couple of guests sitting next to me, Veronica and Phillip Roberts of Fairborn.
I found out that they are the parents of five boys, ages 6 months to 11 years old, and they had stopped in to get their fix of Lab Kai on a date night.
Generally, they eat at White Lotus/Yummy Burger once a week, or at least every other week. They’ve been coming in often for a little over a year, and with five young boys they usually order a carryout.
The Roberts offered further insight on what keeps them coming back. They love the food and appreciate Yong’s warm personality and sense of humor.
“That’s part of what we love about her (Shoop.) She has gotten to know us so well that even if he calls, and this was after we’d only been in here three or four times, he called and she remembered him. Periodically, we’ll ask her to make whatever she wants to make and sometimes she’ll let us try new things,” Veronica says.
During my second visit I also met a few more customers from Walnut Hills. Kathleen Hartshorn is a regular customer who stops in about once a month. When I asked Hartshorn what she likes the most about coming in she says, “Her. And her food. She is so much fun. I don’t think I’ve ever come in here and not laughed.”
The one-woman operation at 327 E. Third St. is open six days a week—Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.