From nun to now, heart and how behind Benja’s Thai & Sushi

Benja Peterson, owner, Benja's Thai and Sushi, St. George, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Benja Peterson

ST. GEORGE – For Benja Peterson, owner of Benja Thai and Sushi, all things are interconnected, entwined, and purposeful. She also believes in the power of sunlight – pure light – and believes it translates into pure energy. That’s why she is a fan of rising early in the morning to greet the sun’s first light – “It gives you the power to create whatever you want,” she said.

Sushi at Benja's, St. George,  Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Benja's
Sushi at Benja’s, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Benja’s

And creating whatever she has wanted is the very story of Benja Thai and Sushi.

Having become a Buddhist nun at age 18, (shaving her now beautiful and trademark mane of black hair), Benja said learning to cook was a requirement of all nuns: “You were a nun, you cooked for the monk.”

And such work required great dedication, time and precision.

“I had never cooked before,” she said. “So this was hard work and cooking for the monk required the highest standards.”

Benja recalled how she was taught to make curry from a coconut by hand. Early every morning, she said she would sit at the coconut grinder on a saddle with the blade in front of her.

I would hold out those coconuts and grind and grind,” she said, “and then I would take the pieces of meat, add a little water, squeeze, press and knead out the coconut milk.”

Though she described the process as “very hard work and hard on my hands and body,” she said it was important; it taught her discipline, patience, and the foundation for the very curry she serves in her restaurant today.

After leaving the monestary, Benja married and came to America in 1981.

“This is when I started cooking for people,” she said. “And this is when I learned to enjoy making people happy by creating good food for them.”

Until then, cooking, for Benja, was work. In America, she learned the art of creating dishes to give joy to others.

“I started cooking for friends and family and I never had a recipe,” Benja said. “I just remembered what I had learned and I use good common sense.”

Because her restaurants have been so successful, Benja said she feels confident in saying, “I must have a good common sense of what good food is supposed to taste like!”

But it isn’t all just that. Benja studies balance, yin and yang, light and dark, color and contrast, the human anatomy of taste buds, and she perfects the dishes she serves in her restaurants. For her, good food requires a blend of sweet, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. She said:

“Food should be this for people:  Eat. Taste. Heal.”

Benja never uses a recipe.

Sushi at Benja's, St. George,  Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Benja's
Thai food at Benja’s, St. George, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of Benja’s

When she moved to St. George in 1992, Benja was surprised to find no Thai restaurants. In fact, she couldn’t even find an acquaintance to share Thai cooking with. So she started teaching courses at the college to develop her own eclectic group of Thai food friends.

“It is an art, really,” she said. “To know Thai cooking is to know balance and energy and to realize that preparing food is a spiritual and all-giving experience.”

In 2006, Benja opened her doors at the bequest of an overwhelmingly ecstatic group of supporters, friends, cooking students and her family.

“It was my son Alex who really said, ‘Mom you have to do this.’ So, a month after he said that, I did.”

Now with two prospering St. George locations, Benja Thai and Sushi Restaurant provides Southern Utah with a metropolitan teemed with cozy authentic dining experience. Both locations offer sushi bar service like you’d find in a big city, surrounded by cozy booths and quaint tables serviced by the most attentive and polished waiters always dressed sharply in black.

And the food is just as Benja intends it to be, a composite of color, spirit, and giving. It is colorful to the taste, warm to experience, beautiful to look at, and it is truly, as she intends it to be, her greatest gift.

“I don’t work in the kitchen as much as I used to,” she said. “Now I take the time to interact with the customers, visit with them to make sure they are happy and see that they are enjoying their experience at my restaurant.”

To the taste, Benja’s Thai and Sushi is both delectable and dynamic. And the experience of eating in her restaurant truly is unforgettable. Which is exactly why her patrons keep coming back for more.



Website: Benja Thai and Sushi

Address: 2 W. St. George Boulevard, St. George, Utah 84770 / Telephone: 435-628-9538

Hours: Mon – Sat 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. / Sun. 5–9 p.m.

Website: Benja’s Thai Garden

Address: 435 N. 1680 E #14, St. George, Utah 84790 / Telephone: 435-251-9301

Hours: Mon – Sat 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. / Sun. 1–8 p.m.

Website: Benja Yoga – St. George Utah

Address: 344 S. Main St., St. George, Utah 84790 / Telephone: 435-862-2569

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Benja Peterson, owner, Benja's Thai and Sushi, St. George, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Benja Peterson
Benja Peterson, owner, Benja’s Thai and Sushi, St. George, Utah, date not given | Photo courtesy of Benja Peterson


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  • Joanna March 29, 2013 at 7:04 am

    We love going to Benja! We usually go to the mall location, and her son Alex is always so kind to us. Jacob is fantastic too. Thanks so much for all the wonderful food and service. We’ll see you soon. (And thanks SGN for the interesting article about the owner!)

  • Dr Andrew White March 29, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Benja’s is just a couple doors up from my office. I eat lunch there every Saturday. The staff is great. The food is wonderful; whether dine-in or carry-out. The wait staff is super-sharp.

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