Posted: 16.10.20 at 10:01 by LAYTH YOUSIF @HitchinNubNews
Hitchin Nub News aims to support our community, promoting shops, businesses, charities, clubs and sports groups.
We will be showcasing some of these businesses, organisations and individuals regularly in a feature called 'Up Close in Hitchin'.
For today's Up Close meet Mai, Yui, Pae and her husband David, the hard-working friends behind Thai Lao Kitchen on Cambridge Road - as they share their love of food, and reflect on the challenges of opening during a pandemic when following their dreams in owning a restaurant.
HITCHIN NUB NEWS: Great to meet you all. Before we focus on your restaurant tell us a little about yourselves. How did you meet?
David: Pae and myself met when I was visiting friends in Thailand. I regularly visited there to go running with the local Hash House Harriers [a running group in the country] We started a long distance relationship and after a few years we got married in Thailand. When Pae first moved from south east Asia after we married, she did three jobs to keep busy, including working at the Three Moorhens. She also worked at Sukawatee Thai restaurant in Hitchin.
Mai and Yui are also from Thailand, where Yui was a chef in Bangkok. They both worked in Thai restaurants in the UK, Yui still working as a chef, which is where they met each other. They later met Pae when they all worked together in the same Thai restaurant.
It was always a dream of Pae to run a restaurant. She loves cooking. When she’s not working she cooks at home. It’s a very social thing. Talking and socialising and preparing food. This was a dream shared by Mai and Yui. The restaurant is owned by the three of them, and they all work in the kitchen. David helps out with the administration in a voluntary role as he already had a full time job as well.
Pae: Before lockdown food was a very big social event. We like to cook for everyone and gather everyone together. We love preparing food together and spending time together.
My inspiration is my father. He was a fisherman on the Mekong River on the Thai/Lai border. He cooked for everyone. He also grew food on land. I’ve always had that love of food from my father and my family. I was 12-years-old when I left school to help my family and younger siblings. I worked hard, even tending water buffalo out in the fields. I have always had a big work ethic and I have always worked hard.
David: In a way it sounds like a Charles Dickens novel, where the oldest children leave school to look after the youngest but it just shows there is a huge work ethic and pride in caring for one’s family.
HITCHIN NUB NEWS: You opened earlier this summer. It must have been difficult opening during a pandemic…?
David: Yes, we opened mid-June. It has been challenging. Although the business existed since last year, we just missed out on government help, so we lost out on the £10k grant while actually opening during lockdown. It’s been a challenge. We were disappointed. Pae, Mai and Yui all left previous jobs to open this restaurant together.
Pae: It’s been a mix of emotions. We were excited to finally open this summer. It was a relief too. But it’s been tempered with the uncertainty that comes with the pandemic. But I have to say we are really glad we have opened despite the pandemic.
HITCHIN NUB NEWS: You all must have been very busy…
David: Yes! Prior to opening in June, we spent a week doing a deep clean, then we decorated the restaurant and prepared everything. Plenty of friends and family joined in helping within social distancing guidelines and rules of course. It was a very social thing.
Pae: They came for the food! [laughs] Everyone was excited and happy to be able to serve customers. The feedback has been great. We get calls from people after they eat it to say how delicious it was and lots of comments on our Facebook page.
HITCHIN NUB NEWS: I spent six months travelling in south east Asia, authentic Thai – and Lao food – is delicious…
David: There aren’t that many authentic Thai restaurants around north Herts so I think people are pleased to taste genuine Thai – and Lao - food. The feedback we have had has been very positive.
Pae: We cook the way we would if we were cooking for our own family. We put a lot of time and effort into our food and you can taste how good it really it because of the care and love we put into preparing and cooking it. We want everyone to enjoy our food. We say to everyone: Join us for great Thai Lao home-style cooking. Try it, you’ll love it!
David: Our signature dishes include Pad Thai and our green and red curries of course.
In terms of our Lao food that we offer, Pae and her family are from north east Thailand near the Lao border. I wouldn’t say Lao food is particularly similar to Thai food despite being neighbours. You could say it’s more spicy, with bigger flavours. For example there are so many different flavours in our Lao sausage – and if it was made back in Lao it would be even spicier!
HITCHIN NUB NEWS: What is your ethos when it comes to food?
Pae: Our ethos is that we want you to love the taste of our food as much as we love making it for our customers. We have pride in our food and we want to share our delicious food with you!
We are pleased to be part of the Hitchin community. There is a real sense of community here and we want to be a part of this town.
HITCHIN NUB NEWS: It’s great to see people passionate about good food…
Pae: We have followed our dreams to own a restaurant, we’ve worked so hard to get to this point and we want it to be a success. Lockdown has made us look at things differently. It made us think of different things to add to the menu.
We’ve been really creative in terms of sharing ideas. Every day when we cook we think about adding more things to the menu.
Of course we have to be careful and we are following all the guidelines. We are very much looking for the day when things can return to normal.
We have put our souls into our food and we want as many people in Hitchin to try our delicious menu. We also want feedback, let us know what you like and what you’d like us to add.
We do have a new menu with more dishes added coming out soon and we look forward to sharing them with you and hope you like them as much as we do.
Hitchin Nub News: Many thanks for your time, we wish you every success
Previous Hitchin Nub News UP CLOSE features:
If you or your business or organisation would like to be featured in a future UP CLOSE please email [email protected] or tweet us @HitchinNubNews