Simply Thai restaurant opens in Jamestown
By: Norma B. Dennis
The long-anticipated Simply Thai restaurant on East Main Street did not open with fanfare. That will come later when owners Matt “Jit” Lothakoun and his sister Vonne Keobouala hold a grand opening in January. The brother-sister duo, however, did host a soft opening Nov. 29 for staff and a few walk-in customers who dropped by when they saw the lights.
The following two nights found friends and families who had learned of the opening crowding the place to experience the Thai and Laotian cuisine offered by Jamestown’s newest restaurant.
“This was a trial run to get us started,” Vonne said. “It has warmed our hearts to see the new restaurant come to life after so many months of preparation and planning.”
Although they will hold an official ribbon cutting and opening ceremony after the new year begins, the staff at Simply Thai is ready to serve customers now. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday from 4:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“Our love of cooking started with our mom, Chan,” Vonne said. “She was the driving force and sustainer of our family when we came from Laos to America in the 1980s and settled in Visalia, California, Mom was way ahead of her time, operating what is now called a food truck for a loyal following, which included many Southeast Asians who longed for the delicious flavors and dishes of home.”
While in college, Matt opened his first Southeast Asian restaurant with his mother as the head chef.
“It was a learning experience for both of them,” Vonne said. “But it was our mother who understood the importance of getting to know our customers, in addition to offering delicious food.”
Matt has a degree in industrial engineering, and Vonne began her career as a human resources professional. But their passion for food led the siblings to start a Thai restaurant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. In 2008, Matt noticed a new strip mall in Elon that would eventually become the location of Simply Thai. The restaurant not only drew customers from the Elon and Burlington communities but from surrounding areas as well.
When deciding to open a second restaurant, the brother and sister choose Jamestown, which like Elon had a small-town feeling.
“There is a trend happening in America, where small-town life is being rediscovered and valued again,” Vonne said.
“Jamestown was the first town I lived in after moving to North Carolina from California 20 years ago,” Matt said. “I still remember the immediate feeling of history and small-town life.”
Having the restaurant close to several universities also appealed to the siblings.
“At Simply Thai in Elon we meet university freshman and get to know them and their families over the years,” Vonne said. “We often greet customers by name when they walk in and make it a point to learn their food and drink preferences. Ours is a family business. Our spouses are on board to round out the team. But we also treat our employees and customers like family.”
Simply Thai in Jamestown can seat 50 customers. There is also patio seating for about 20.
Guests who eat at the bar can enjoy their favorite cocktail while watching Simply Thai’s sushi chef work his magic.
The bar will feature crafted drinks infused with Asian herbs and fruits making them flavorful and unique. The bar manager is creating a signature Simply Thai cocktail and will unveil it at the restaurant’s grand opening. Drinks may be made with or without alcohol.
“Our mom is the only one who can do some of our food recipes, but she is teaching us,” Vonne said with a smile.
“Part of Matt’s culinary mission is to stay current on Southeast Asian food trends. Laos, Thailand and Vietnam have grown in popularity in recent years as destinations for ‘foodie’ travelers. Matt visits the region regularly. He and Mom have planned a trip there this winter to discover the latest flavors and bring back the best to incorporate into Simply Thai’s menu.”
Matt and Vonne, who quit her corporate job in June, will divide their time between the Jamestown and Elon locations.
“We are looking forward to becoming part of the Jamestown community,” Vonne said. “We want to be like ‘Cheers,’ where everyone knows your name. We can’t wait to get to know our customers.”