King & I restaurant gets new owners

KENNEWICK -- When Katie Hamner met her boyfriend for the first time at The King & I restaurant -- after a four-year online romance -- she hardly knew what was coming.

That was seven months ago. Now, they're married, and last week they bought the popular Kennewick Thai restaurant to start a new career together.

"We had talked about (owning a restaurant) for a long time," Hamner said. "I had the education. He had the experience."

Hamner, 28, has a degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Nevada, and her new hubby, Lincoln Panasy, a Canadian of Thai-Chinese heritage, is a chef with about six years of restaurant experience.

It was the couple's enthusiasm that sold King & I owner Josefina Wannarachue, a Filipino married to a Thai native, into parting with the restaurant she started about 16 years ago. She agreed to sell the business, but still owns the property.

They are young, and they needed an opportunity to pursue their dreams, she said. "I gave them a very good deal. I want them to be successful," said Wannarachue, who learned Thai cooking while visiting her in-laws in Thailand.

Wannarachue said she wouldn't have given her business to "just anybody." By selling The King & I to the daughter of a family friend, she said she's sure her loyal customers will be well served.

Wannarachue, whose husband Nikom is a Kennewick pediatrician, has known Katie's physician parents Pat and Daphene Hamner for more than 10 years.

She said she'll also help out Hamner and Panasy as needed. One of her cousins, Rebecca, who's been a longtime King & I employee, will continue working at the restaurant as part of the deal, she said.

Buying a well-run restaurant with an established clientele made the decision easier for the young couple. And part of their down payment came from Hamner's parents as a wedding present.

Hamner, who grew up in Richland, moved to the Tri-Cities a year ago from Las Vegas to work in her father's medical clinic in Richland.

Since taking over The King & I last week, Hamner has been busy learning about the practical side of running a restaurant while her husband is spending time in the kitchen and researching ways to enhance its offerings.

The couple plan to tweak the menu and add some Vietnamese and Chinese dishes.

Wannarachue said she still continues to operate O'Henry's Go Go restaurant in downtown Kennewick. But now she hopes to have more time to spend with her granddaughter in Los Angeles.

The King & I offers an $8.99 lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is open for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541;; Business Beat blog at