March 1, 2012

Owner of Mia Restaurant on Commons Wins Pride of Ownership Award

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At the end of last year, Ithaca restaurateur Lex Chutin­taranond took home the Ithaca Rotary Club’s Pride of Ownership Award for establishing Mia, a new Pan-Asian restaurant located on the Commons.

The Pride of Ownership Award is given to seven property owners each year for the work they have done to improve the aesthetics of the Ithaca community, according to Scott Whitham, head of the awards committee.

“[Mia] was an easy [choice],” Whitman said about this year’s award.

He said Chutintaranond’s hard work and exceptional talent in the restaurant business exemplified the purpose of the award.

Born and raised in Thailand, Chutintaranond said that he discovered that his heart was in restaurant-owning early in his career. He and his wife, Flaminia, currently own Mia, as well as Zaza’s, an Italian restaurant located across from Purity Ice Cream on Route 13.

An Ithaca resident for 25 years, Chutintaranond has worked on many restaurant projects: He opened Just a Taste, a tapas and wine bar, and collaborated with Theresa Miller, the current owner of Madeline’s, to renovate her restaurant in 1997, according to Whitham. Chutinaranond said that Thai Cuisine, his first Ithaca restaurant, is currently flourishing under the ownership of his brother.

Chutintaranond called Mia “one of the most successful restaurants I’ve opened in 22 years in Ithaca,” describing the renovation as “a whole community effort.” He said the project would not have become a reality without the strong support of his financiers and customers.

Whitham said he particularly enjoys talking to owners like Chutintaranond who have been “so moved” by receiving the award.

“There’s little that is controversial about handing out awards for work well done,” Whitham said.

Restoring Mia, which was originally a run-down building, was no easy feat, Chutintaranond said. Chutintaranond said he and his wife were aware of the risks they took when they decided to renovate the building.

“Restoring a historical building is not a money-making thing,” Chutintaranond said, adding that the project was not one that many business owners would have agreed to take on.

However, with 11 different sources of funding — including the City of Ithaca, the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and the Empire State Development Corporation — Chutintaranond’s vision became a reality.

After a renovation that cost more than $3 million, the building was transformed. It now houses Mia, as well as a banquet room, office space and apartment housing on its third and fourth floors.

Chutintaranond said that while he decided to open Mia on the ground floor of the building, his primary focus was to restore the historic property.

“The project was not [just about] the restaurant at all,” he said. “The project was about renovating this four-story building.”

In addition to contributing to the aesthetic appearance of the community, the restoration also created job opportunities for local residents, Chutin­taranond said. He said that he has not seen a change in the amount of business Mia receives since the restaurant received the award, but the award was mainly designed to instill pride in business owners for the work that they have done in Ithaca.

Susan Blumenthal M.R.P. ’78, a former City of Ithaca Alderperson and the chair of the Planning and Development Board for the Ithaca Rotary Club, created the award 14 years ago.

Chutintaranond said that founding an Asian eatery, with a menu catering to students and local residents alike, strengthened ties back to his Thai heritage.

Tom Jaeger ’15, who recently dined at the restaurant, said Mia is an excellent dining option.

“It’s the best seaweed salad I’ve ever had in my life,” Jaeger said.

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon