| The story of The Elephant Walk
is one of a family that has consistently turned adversity
into a recipe for success that is
the envy of restaurants across the nation. From the killing
fields of Cambodia to an old police station in Somerville,
Massachusetts, and a long closed carriage manufacturer
in Cambridge, the owners of The Elephant Walk have traveled
a fascinating and unique path.
The Elephant Walk first opened its doors in 1991. Located
in a renovated Union Square police station, the restaurant
quickly drew national attention for its superlative food.
The Elephant Walk was Boston's only Cambodian restaurant,
also the only one in the city serving two complete menus,
French and Cambodian. Chef Longteine de Monteiro, known
by her nickname, Nyep, opened the restaurant with the
help of her daughter Nadsa and son-in-law Bob Perry. Getting
the restaurant underway was a project that started in
1975, the year the Khmer Rouge overthrew the Cambodian
Until 1975, Nyep's husband Kenthao, a career government
official, was Cambodia's ambassador to Taiwan. In the
unfolding aftermath of the Khmer Rouge revolution and
genocide, the family slowly realized the magnitude of
their and the country's extraordinary losses. Many family
members, including Nyep's eldest brother and two brothers-in-law
were killed during the purge. Others, including Nyep's
mother and grandmother, were simply never seen or heard
from again. The de Monterio family settled in Beziers,
a small Spanish-influenced city in the south of France.
Relying on savings that quickly dwindled to nearly nothing,
Nyep and Ken decided to open a restaurant to support themselves.
Their modest 50-seat restaurant, financed with the proceeds
of Nyep's family jewels, served Cambodian cuisine.
Opened in 1980, it was called Amrita, a Sanskrit word
meaning 'the elixir of eternal life'. Nadsa became a naturalized
American in 1990, paving the way for the family to emigrate
once more. Nadsa's road to America was no less interesting
than that of her parents. As a high school student living
in Taiwan in 1977 Nadsa fell in love with a young American,
Bob Perry. The two were separated in 1978, but seven years
later they met again in Paris, married and moved to Boston.
When Nadsa's parents came to America they turned to their
son-in-law for advice on opening a business. Their best
hope was also the most dangerous option, open a restaurant
in a city that was in the midst of an economic crisis.
While Nadsa supported the whole family with her work as
a travel agent, Bob and Nyep got The Elephant Walk underway.
Nadsa was gradually drawn into the restaurant, first as
a way of spending time with her husband, but later finding
herself intrigued by the rich challenge of apprenticing
with her mother in the kitchen. Nadsa left the travel
business for good in 1993 and became Nyep's full time
Sous chef. The Elephant Walk soon became recognized for
it's adventurous cuisine and funky, welcoming atmosphere.
After digesting the success of the Somerville restaurant,
the family envisioned a second. With the arrival from
France of elder daughter Launa and her French husband
Gerard Lopez in late 1993, the team was complete; the
family felt it now had the strength and resources to handle
a second restaurant. Together the family opened The Elephant
Walk in Boston in late 1994. In late 1997 they opened
a third restaurant, Carambola.
Carambola serves exclusively Cambodian cuisine and is
located in Waltham, Massachusetts. Most recently the family
closed the original restaurant in Somerville and opened
The Elephant Walk in Cambridge on the site of the former
Henderson Carriage House. The restaurants' names are like
their cuisine, interesting and a little quirky. Carambola
is a star fruit, tart when under ripe but sweet and exotic
when ready to eat. The Elephant Walk name pays homage
to the prominent role elephants have played in Cambodian
culture and religion. Visitors to the ruins of Angkor
Wat never forget the myriad sculptures and friezes there
depicting the Hindu god Ganesh, a figure with a humanoid
body and elephant head. Film buffs will remember the 1953
movie 'Elephant Walk' starring a young Elizabeth Taylor.
An original poster for the movie still hangs in the bar
of the Boston restaurant. Tenacity, creativity, resilience
and hard work are the characteristics of the extended
family that has created The Elephant Walk and its sister,
Carambola. None of the principals received extensive,
formal training as chefs until after their restaurants
were successfully launched. Bob Perry, the driving force
behind the family enterprise, never planned a career owning
and managing restaurants. Everyone involved came together
to help the family elders survive. In doing so, they are
preserving the legacy of Cambodia's extraordinary cuisine,
and have created a group of fabulous restaurants that
are among the best loved in Boston.