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Prapai Rin­genberg opened the Coffee Cup Diner in Hillsdale. Facebook

Prapai Rin­genberg, affec­tion­ately known to those in the com­munity as Pai, leaned back in a faded blue chair in one of Hillsdale’s beloved hole-in-the-wall diners.

Coffee Cup Diner is her legacy in the quaint com­munity she now calls home. The small restaurant is nothing close to spa­cious, yet she said it manages to attract hun­dreds of regular cus­tomers and curious vis­itors each week.

“When I heard that there was a diner in Hillsdale that served Thai food, I was imme­di­ately intrigued,” sophomore Carrie Williams said.

Rin­genberg pur­chased the diner, which used to be a dining car, in 1999 because “the price was right and the oppor­tunity was there.”

Though Rin­genberg had cooked in and managed restau­rants across the country, she had always wanted to own a coffee shop. So when she opened Coffee Cup, as a small coffee shop shortly after set­tling in Hillsdale, she felt like she had accom­plished one of her aspi­ra­tions.

Today, Coffee Cup not only serves coffee, but also tra­di­tional diner food and Ringenberg’s spe­cialty Thai dishes.

“It’s a local hangout — you grab a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee,” she said.

Rin­genberg hasn’t always served the cus­tomer-favorite Thai food, though. She only began because of con­tinual cus­tomer requests for “Pai’s famous Thai.”

“I went from serving it from one day, to two days, to every day,” Rin­genberg said, laughing at its pop­u­larity.

It was in Bangkok, Thailand, she said, where her love of cooking developed. In her accented English that speaks to a dif­ferent time and place, Rin­genberg said she learned to cook Thai food from her family before she moved to the United States. Forty eight years later, Rin­genberg is still cooking the same dishes.

Rin­genberg moved to the U.S. when she was 17 years old, fol­lowing in the foot­steps of her older sister who had already settled in Vir­ginia.

“I was excited to move to America,” Rin­genberg said. “I was poor and had no home in Thailand.”

Rin­genberg said it was hard to adjust to living in the U.S. at first.

“I didn’t know any English,” she said. “That made it very hard.”

The oppor­tu­nities she looked to find here were every­thing she had hoped for, she said. Her talent in the kitchen allowed her to succeed both as a cook and a manager in several dif­ferent restau­rants. Even­tually, work brought her to Hillsdale.

Rin­genberg goes back to Thailand to visit her rel­a­tives every five years, and  said she hopes to visit them again this summer.

“I miss my rel­a­tives, and some­times the food,” Rin­genberg added. “But this is my home now.”

Rin­genberg quickly became an integral part of the com­munity, and not just because of her diner’s cuisine. According to Hillsdale alumnus Mason Stuard ’14, Ringenberg’s open and approachable nature makes her an invaluable part of Hillsdale’s com­munity.

Stuard, who worked for Rin­genberg for two months after his grad­u­ation, remem­bered how even when he was a cus­tomer, Rin­genberg would sit and talk with him.

“She’s warm, open, and giving,” Stuard said. “Everyone who comes in feels special.”

Though Rin­genberg has expe­ri­enced unimag­inable trials throughout her life — the death of a son and a knee oper­ation with its accom­pa­nying set­backs — her drive and joy are tes­ti­monies to her unwa­vering faith in God, according to Stuard.

“Even though she had a hard time, she doesn’t wear that on her sleeve,” Stuard said.

Hillsdale res­ident Cyndi Arm­strong, a close friend of Ringenberg’s, said she would never forget the day Rin­genberg found out her son had died.

“It changes you,” Arm­strong said. “I can’t even imagine.”

Rin­genberg con­tinued to exude incredible gen­erosity and kindness to everyone around her, though, according to Arm­strong.

“She cares about so many people,” Arm­strong said. “She’ll do any­thing for anyone.”

Rin­genberg, however, said she receives more from the com­munity than she could ever give.

“They’re like family,” she said. “If I ever need any­thing, they’re here. This is a small town with a very caring heart.”

Rin­genberg said she hopes to begin training someone to succeed her and take over the man­agement of Coffee Cup within the next five years. She said she wants to enjoy her grand­children and travel, but her plan is to stay in Hillsdale.

“People will miss her tremen­dously [at Coffee Cup],” Arm­strong said.

Stuard said regardless, Rin­genberg will con­tinue to do what she’s always done: feed people and connect with them.

“Pai is Pai,” he said. “She has a beau­tiful nature about her. That will never change.”