A ‘Crazy’ climb: Crazy Noodles manager, an avid mountain climber, hopeful Amherst eatery is on rebound

  • Boravy Puch, left, looks in on her brother, Zakk Puch, preparing a Madras curry stir fry in the kitchen of the family-owned Crazy Noodles restaurant in Amherst on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crazy Noodles manager Boravy Puch takes a call-in lunch order at the Main Street Amherst restaurant on Tuesday. Puch says that before the pandemic the dining room would normally be packed at lunchtime. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Boravy Puch manages the family-owned Crazy Noodles restaurant on Main Street in Amherst. Photographed on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crazy Noodles owner and cook Zakk Puch prepares a peanut noodle salad for a lunchtime pick-up order at the Amherst restaurant on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Boravy Puch, who manages Crazy Noodles in Amherst, at the Annapurna Circuit Monastery in Nepal in 2019. Submitted photo

  • Boravy Puch, who manages Crazy Noodles in Amherst, is also an avid mountain climber. Here she is, at left, at Everest Base Camp in Nepal in 2019. Submitted photo

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 4:22:37 PM

AMHERST — When she first heard that the novel coronavirus was making its way around the globe, Boravy Puch was at the border of Tibet and Nepal, continuing a challenging 25-day hike through the region’s mountain ranges.

“It was blissful to be in the Himalayas unaware what was going on in the world,” says Puch, who manages the family-owned Crazy Noodles restaurant at 36 Main St.

Returning to the United States and her home in Leverett, Puch said it was a surreal experience to have the plane touch down and fear that stomach bug she picked up, and the long maskless flight, might have caused her to be infected with COVID-19.

While she regained her health without battling the virus, more than a year later, after being immediately thrust back into running the day-to-day operations at the restaurant that specializes in Thai, Italian and Cambodian fusion noodle dishes, she successfully assisted in the eatery’s transition to a model with exclusively order ahead and takeout with limited contact.

With support from a recovery grant from the Amherst Business Improvement District and a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and loyal customers, the business has survived, despite what she calls “the very visible dent” in finances caused by the college campus shutdowns in March 2020, and then the winter surge in cases.

Much of the staff has since moved along, with just one front of house staff and two employees in the kitchen, along with herself, keeping Crazy Noodles running.

There are reasons to be optimistic now. “With the weather getting warmer, we have seen an increase in numbers, and definitely a positive direction,” Puch said.

Plans are to stay the course on providing food via takeout for a while longer, rather than resuming dine-in meals.

“We feel like it’s almost over, but our best interest and the community’s best interest is to not participate in that yet,” Puch said.

A personal challenge

For Puch personally, the pandemic has meant putting on hold her dreams of climbing more mountains, after making it to the Everest Base Camp in 2019 even while developing a chest infection and briefly becoming delirious.

“It’s not a walk in the park,” Puch said of that climb. “It’s more of a mental challenge to get through it mainly because of the cold.”

Born in Cambodia, Puch, 37, grew up in Worcester and self-describes herself as living in a sheltered environment and not doing things out of her comfort zone. Even though she has traveled to many countries and spent time working in Ireland after graduating from Northeastern University, she was interested in testing her resiliency mentally and showing “how much more capable I am than I think.”

Having known the word Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, since childhood, Puch felt a pull toward the country.

“I just always wanted to go and see what the fascination was within myself,” she said. “When I got to Nepal, I had this weird sensation of being home. Everybody just assumed I was Nepali, which was fascinating.”

Before heading to Everest Base Camp, at 17,598 feet elevation, she started completing 200 flights of stairs daily, running 10 miles every other day, as well as resistant training and yoga, even while continuing to work full time. She and a friend then traveled to Rainbow Mountain in Peru to experience how altitude might affect her. “My body seemed to adapt pretty well to altitude,” Puch said.

She chose to head to Everest during the low season, with weather not as conducive for hiking but with fewer tourists. “Despite the inclement weather, I really enjoyed that there was barely anyone there,” Puch said.

After a harrowing landing at Lukla Aiport, featuring a narrow and short runway, she met her guides for the next 2 ½ weeks and was immediately warned that if she came down with any illness she needed to let the guides know, out of concern that someone might die on their watch.

In 2020, Puch went to what is called the Annapurna Circuit, in central Nepal, a difficult hike due to the elevation gains, almost like non-stop stair climbing. The journey starts passing through villages with poinsettias in bloom in summer-like conditions but gets colder and colder as it winds through villages with tea houses and lodges along the way.

That hike included going through the Thorung La Pass, at 17,769 feet the highest pass in the world, with a guide and three other hikers. She also experienced the scariest and worst day of her life. “We didn’t know if we would survive the night,” adding that she then walked 30 miles in a snowstorm, from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m., with an injured ankle and pelvis to reach an evacuation vehicle.

“I couldn’t feel anything, my ankle, my toes, or the tears coming down my eyes,” Puch said. To set out on such journeys, Puch said she needs a full two months, usually beginning when the restaurant is closed during winter break. “People have this perception that it is extremely hard to do but I believe most people can do it if they put in the effort,” Puch said.

Online business launch

During this past year, Puch has been able to start an online-only vintage clothing business called Heartworm Nostalgia, working three days a week doing photo shoots with models and editing web content. She hopes to expand this enterprise, based in the Paragon Arts Building in Easthampton.

Crazy Noodles’ way of doing business has kept Puch, the staff and customers safe, but not seating 50 people indoors and not being able to offer outdoor dining, either, due to the grade on Main Street, has been an extra challenge.

Something she misses are the many longtime customers and the students who spend their four undergraduate years at Crazy Noodles.

“You don’t realize the amount of low-impact interaction can have on your emotional well-being,” Puch said.

Still training for hiking every day, Puch said she has gotten her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and, if she is able to travel later this year, will set her sights on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and visiting Africa, a continent she has not yet been on. She still has her plane tickets from an aborted trip in 2020. “The minute the pandemic is somewhat contained, Kilimanjaro is next,” Puch said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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