Olga Kwasniewski is not your standard restaurateur, average entrepreneur, or stereotypical Beauty Queen. In reality, she is a skilled planner, an international business analyst, and a girl who’s just trying to bring out her inner princess.
Born into high society, Kwasniewski didn’t really have to lift a finger had she not wanted to. But, an unaccomplished life, no matter how comfortable or easy it could have been, was not for her. Armed with degrees from two reputable universities located on opposite sides of the world, she set out to make a name for herself. Indeed, there is a lot more to Ms. Kwasniewski than initially meets the eye.
“I graduated from the Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies with a Bachelor’s degree in Korean Language and Literature…As an Honor student, I was granted a scholarship to study in Seoul, Korea. And, during my senior year, I obtained a part-time position as an accountant assistant at a Turkish-Uzbek Textile Company, where I learned the basics of conducting international business.”
Soon after, she obtained a prestigious position at her homeland’s Department of Foreign and Domestic Economic Politics. Unsure if her career and academic achievements were the result of her capabilities or her family’s influential status, she decided to reboot her life. “The only one way to find out the truth was to move to a foreign country and start everything from zero.”
Today, Olga Kwasniewski is the founder and director of Thai Island, an award-winning family-friendly restaurant in Holden, Massachusetts, as well as a professional model, two-time Stevie Award winner, and all around Renaissance woman who is more than capable of holding her own, her personally and professionally.
ARTpublika Magazine spoke with Olga Kwasniewski about her incredible journey of self-discovery, self-affirmation, and the realization of her dreams.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Tashkent, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. It’s the capital of Uzbekistan, one of the many countries that were part of former USSR.
When did you move to the United States and what inspired your decision?
I immigrated to United States in August of 2001. Basically, I refer to my journey as “a Cinderella story in reverse.” My decision to come here was based on my desire to prove myself-worth to myself, without any assistance from my family. My father was the Minister of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, so I was surrounded by privilege since birth.
When I chose to move to the United States, I refused all financial support from my family and was working at a shoe store during the evening shifts, which was the hardest and physically most challenging job I ever held in my life. I also took TOEFL courses at Clark University during the day. After passing my TOEFL exam, I was accepted to Worcester State University where I chose to double major in Psychology and Early Childhood Education.
I graduated in 2.5 years and made the Top 10 of my class in 2005. I was also accepted into the National Honor Society of Psychology Psy Chi for outstanding academic achievements and research.
When and where did you get into modeling?
My modeling career started while I was residing in Tashkent. The decision to dive into modeling was both deliberative and completely spontaneous. During my childhood and teenage years, I remember myself as very shy, reserved, insecure, and socially inactive. I could spend days reading at home, not hanging out with my peers. [But after a small incident at the salon where I was too shy to ask for a haircut], I realized that I never would get things done, if I would not challenge myself and shed my “wallflower” tendencies. So, modeling was my first step to gaining confidence and boosting my self-esteem.
As of today, I am a professional runway model signed with agencies in Boston and New York. I’ve walked for designers during Miami Fashion Week, Boston Fashion Week, and New York Fashion Week. I’ve also been featured on E! Entertainment, and have worked with L’Oreal, Sebastian and other major brands. One of the perks of modeling is being booked for movie productions. I was fortune enough to film with Mel Gibson, America Ferrera, Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Sandra Bullock, and Denzel Washington – among many others. Right now, I am living my dream.
How did you become Ms Massachusetts Globe in 2013?
That was easy!
Just kidding. As a girl, I dreamt of being a Queen or a princess - at least for a moment. Every time I watched beauty pageants, I imagined myself as the winner. But, with all my insecurities, I knew it would be a very difficult dream to turn into reality. Then, in February of 2013, the dream came true. I made the decision to compete in Miss Globe United States - a preliminary to the annual international pageant.
Preparing for it was such an intensive process. I was literally living in my car, driving for up to 7 hours a day, from my pageant trainer in Massachusetts to the gym in New Hampshire to the designers and modeling gigs in between. Becoming a Beauty Queen is like running a marathon, but it was an amazing experience.
How and when did you open your own restaurant, Thai Island?
While at Worcester State, I got work as a waitress on the weekends at a Thai restaurant. I’ve never, ever, worked as a waitress before; never even tried Thai food in my life, and didn’t know any of the dish names. But, I was determining to learn fast. After one year, my boss left for vacation and asked me to manage the restaurant. That was one hell of a week for me, but I learned a lot about prioritization and management. When my boss returned, he told me he believed I was capable of running my own restaurant.
At the time, the idea was completely different from the plans I’ve made, which were to get a Master’s Degree in Psychology and dedicate my life to working with autistic children. After graduation, however, I had an offer to open up a restaurant; so, I decided to take my chances. I opened Thai Island in 2008.
Becoming an entrepreneur was not an easy decision, because launching a business during the recession was the biggest risk of my professional career. I did have a vision and a plan that made it into a successful business. But, the whole process - beginning from market research and ending with the opening of the restaurant - took about one year. I designed the entire restaurant layout as well as the commercial kitchen.
I think it was a remarkable achievement, considering that the construction started literally from scratch, there wasn’t even a building to move into. Being recognized locally as well as and nationally is the best indicator of my team's hard work and ability to learn through experience. Thai Island has collected numerous awards since launch.
How do you balance your modeling duties with running a restaurant?
The hardest part of running a restaurant and juggling a modeling career is that I have to compromise and prioritize between those two jobs. But on a bright side, these two careers are not related and give me a break from one another, preventing burnout [as a result]. Though, my schedule does get hectic during fashion weeks: I can leave to NYC in the morning, strut on a runway, come home and do payroll and inventory reports for my restaurant at night. I don’t complain, even if I am very exhausted. I try to embrace any and every opportunity life gives me.
What advice can you give rising entrepreneurs?
Three rules that I follow in my life: Believe in what you’re doing and do it with a passion; be the CEO of your own life and maintain control of your thoughts and decisions; be fearless of failure.
What are you secret hobbies and passions?
My secret passion is cake decorating, for which I completed a professional course. While I was a student, I dreamt about setting up a professional cake decoration production in the basement of my house. Though my current hobbies are pole dancing and Krav Maga - I am a purple belt - my ultimate passions are books, theater, and travel.
Note* Images are provided by Olga Kwasniewski and sourced from Thai Island.