A new Thai and Japanese bistro has found a home in Forest Park.

Bua Hana Restaurant, 7330 Madison, opened its doors in late January in a storefront that was last occupied by Treehouse Boutique, a children’s clothing store. Pakdee “Dee” Yu, 46, Oak Park resident and the restaurant’s owner, thinks she has found a way to distinguish her business from the competition.

“I set it up with the other restaurants in mind,” she said. “I’m trying to be different and stand out.”

Bua Hana, which means “lotus flower,” features home-style Thai cuisine and a sushi bar. Yu said her restaurant offers customers a new taste and distinctive ambiance.

“Our food is totally authentic, because I cook it the same way I do at home,” she said.

Yu, who came to the U.S. from Thailand in 1984, is influenced by her heritage and the Japanese culture. Equilibrium between these influences is maintained in all aspects of the business, including decoration.

“When we were doing construction and remodeling, I didn’t want too many Thai symbols because I have to include the Japanese,” she said. “Thai is hot and Japanese is cool, so we want to keep a balance between them.”

The balancing act is also central in the atmosphere Yu wants to create for her patrons.

“I want customers to come in, sit down and relax, enjoy the experience and not be hurried,” she explained. “I want it to be an upgrade from other restaurants. Not too elegant or fancy, but not fast food.”

Yu studied at Roosevelt University, where she earned a degree in hospitality and tourism management. She also worked as a manager at Taco Bell for nearly 12 years.

“You work so long for a company that you just want a change,” she said.

That need for change is a big part of what inspired Yu to open a business in an uncertain economy.

“Even if the economy is bad right now, eventually it’s going to turn around,” she said. “I am taking a chance, but for a first-time business owner, I feel like it’s going well. We’ve only been open a week and we already have had customers come in three or four times, without really any advertising.”

Yu is not alone in trying to make the business successful; it is a family affair. Her 21-year-old daughter acts as hostess and a cousin helps with the dining room and decoration. Even Yu’s six siblings all come in to help during evenings and on the weekends.

“I like to cook. We never go out to eat at Thai restaurants, because everyone in the family knows how to cook,” she said.

Originally, Yu wanted to locate the restaurant further west, close to Desplaines Avenue, but found the space had already been purchased. But she is more than happy with Bua Hana’s location now.

“Everything fell into place. The location is five minutes from my house,” she said. “For a first-time business owner, I think the deal I got was good, but the location is the best part. You can say it was fate.”