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From the Kitchen to the Classroom: Oceanside Man Finds Success in Business and in College
You would never know from Paripon “Pari” Thitathan Jr.’s smiling face, which lights up each time he serves his famous “Thai Burger,” that he has had a tough life. Growing up, Thitathan was a product of a split family. At the age of five, Thitathan relocated to Thailand with his father and brother for eight years and finally returned to the United States at the age of 13.
In 2003, Thitathan entered Oceanside High School and then transferred to Fallbrook High during his sophomore year. At the time, he said he did not take school seriously and became drastically behind in credits. “I had zero credits—close to nothing,” Thitathan said. He was forced to attend continuation high school and took part in an accelerated program. He simultaneously attended MiraCosta College, where he enrolled in a couple of classes that helped him catch up with his high school credits. By 2006, at the age of 16, Thitathan graduated high school and earned “The Best Come Back” award.
Thitathan then enrolled as a full-time college student at MiraCosta College, but his accelerated success in high school did not pair well with college-level academics, so he decided to drop out of college and shifted his focus to working full-time in multiple industries including food, retail and automotive. For four years, Thitathan delved in the low-paying and unstable environment of blue-collar jobs. Due to the working conditions, Thitathan realized the importance of a college degree and went back to school to study mechanical engineering, but again performed poorly and thus postponed his education.
In 2008, Thitathan’s family started a chain of restaurants, Papaya Bay Banning. A few years later, due to the unstable economy, two of the three restaurants went bankrupt and once again, Thitathan was at a loss.
“I realized how stupid I was… I realized how much I don't know about life and how things operate,” Thitathan said. Surprisingly, the restaurant industry sparked an interest in an unexpected field. “The restaurant industry unveiled my curiosity for science... and I decided to challenge myself to return to college.”
In fall of 2011, with the bankruptcy and lack of education as his motivation, Thitathan once again enrolled at MiraCosta College, but this time, he dedicated his full focus to succeeding in college.
“I thought I was going to perform terribly, but I proved myself wrong,” Thitathan said. Now a bioengineering major, Thitathan has twice earned a place on the President’s List, is a member of the
Phi Theta Kappa
honor society, and was awarded the
, which provides a $500 scholarship every semester.
“I was literally dragged by my wife and scholarship coordinator Diane Danielewicz to apply for the scholarship,” Thitathan shares. “I almost fell off my bed when I saw the email that I was chosen!”
To help him and his wife with their finances, Thitathan runs a small business, Papaya Bay Jr., which can be found at various farmer’s markets in North County San Diego. “We have the original Thai burgers!” Thitathan declares. Thitathan invested over one thousand dollars in his business and it has paid off. “We became full-blown vendors in the summer of 2012,” Thitathan said. “It’s not easy to stand out in the farmer’s market business, but we have fought a really good fight and are making it.”
His success in business helps pay the bills, but he says it was the scholarship from MiraCosta College that has made the impossible possible.
“My wife, Bongkod Wongpan, and I work hard to make ends meet. This scholarship has definitely helped us with our needs, which is more than what I could ask for,” Thitathan said.
Thitathan plans on finishing his studies at MiraCosta College by 2015 and transferring to UC San Diego or UC Davis to earn a degree in biological engineering. He dreams of someday running his own research facility.
“Despite how dim that ray of light is at the end of this journey, miracles do exist for those who sincerely work hard, have strong faith and hope, and possess a true sense of purpose.”
To have a taste of Thitathan’s “Original Thai Burgers,” (
) check out his stand at Oceanside’s Sunset Market every Thursday night. You can reach Thitathan at