Zach Pratt adds spices to a dish of ramen noodles with a fried egg, kimchi and quick pickles at Jamie K’s on Scribner Boulevard in Lewiston last week. He and boba co-owner Keshia Thanephonesy have set up a pop-up location at Jamie K’s every Thursday through Saturday night since January.

An order of pork dumplings is plated and ready for takeout at Jamie K’s.

A closeup of the ramen with a fried egg, kimchi and quick pickles.

A closeup of the ramen with a fried egg, kimchi and quick pickles.

LEWISTON — Zach Pratt and Keshia Thanephonesy opened boba when he was 23, she was 21 and they had little to lose by signing a lease for a five-seat restaurant inside a Lisbon Street gas station.

They offered pho, dumplings and bubble tea.

And they explained themselves, a lot.

“At first, we weren’t very busy and no one knew what anything was — at all,” Pratt said. “It’s not like doing tacos or spaghetti.”

Slowly, word got out about the southeast Asian fare with a French twist and the Lewiston couple was turning away an average of 25 customers on a Friday night. They’ve outgrown the gas station, adopted a pop-up shop model while they plan for a new space in Auburn and set sights on someday franchising.

“My food, it’s the thrill-factor of the experience,” said Pratt, now 25, who cooks in an open kitchen where customers watch the dicing, grilling and, sometimes, flames. “People like that; it’s fun, it’s entertainment.”

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Pratt graduated from Lewiston High School in 2010, enrolled in Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s culinary arts program and cooked at The Green Ladle the past two years.

“I’m not a guy to sit at a desk; I can’t sit still,” he said. “I like the adrenaline rush of cooking, the fast pace. There’s a lot of problem-solving in a commercial kitchen. It’s much more than just cooking for the consumer; you actually have to have a certain skill set to be able to balance cook time and tickets. You have to use your brain.”

After graduation, he worked as a sous chef at the Turner Highlands Country Club and cooked at “too many (other restaurants) to list.”

“But I fell in love with Asian cuisine,” he said. “I love the flavor profile. I like the distinctive looks to things.”

Thanephonesy, 23, grew up in Portland. The couple has been together seven years. Some of boba’s dishes started as her family recipes, given a kick for more flavor. Her family emigrated from Thailand to the U.S.

“We concocted a lot of things together,” Thanephonesy said. “Basically, what Zach makes, I taste it and I tell him what it needs. ‘You need to add more of this, more of that, or I don’t like it so we’re not doing it.'”

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Their very first idea was to open a food truck, she said. With a little research, that didn’t seem so viable for the start-up. A five-seat counter space at Coast to Coast gas fit perfectly.

The restaurant name, boba, comes from the name of the bubbles at the bottom of bubble tea. The couple has a 4-year-old son, Maddax, whom regulars call “Little Boba.”

They first opened in April 2015 but by May 2016 had outgrown the gas station. Last summer, boba drew hundreds of regulars to its two-day pop-up shop at Marche. They followed that with a successful pop-up at Rails and have been at Jamie K’s on Scribner Boulevard each Thursday to Saturday night since January.

It’s challenging to work in someone else’s kitchen, Pratt said, but it’s been great to keep their customer base fed while they work on a permanent location. Friday nights now average 60 to 100 orders.

They’ve been experimenting with the menu, adding items such as Korean chicken and spicy tots, which Thanephonesy describes as Asian poutine, to popular standards such as marinated-vegetable fried rolls and ramen with a fried egg, kimchi and quick pickles.

“Before I start cooking, I walk them through it,” Pratt said. “‘Have you ever tried this? I recommend this.’ You start with the basics. Everyone knows what a crab rangoon is.”

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