There was a time when Thai food talk in the city revolved around which places used ketchup for their Pad Thai. Those days are long behind us— thanks in large part to the culinary offerings of Nuit and Jeff Regular.
The wife and husband team first made their mark with authentic Thai cuisine by way of Sukhothai on Parliament in 2008; a success that saw them expand to Sabai Sabai Kitchen and Bar and another Sukhothai location. Along the way, they also introduced Khao San Road— which may have single-handedly relaunched Thai cuisine into the trend-sphere of the city.
Pai, the couple's latest venture, is also their most ambitious. Among other authentic treats, Thai breakfast is served. Plus, in a separate space within the restaurant, Bebop (named after the legendary music bar in Pai), offers Thai coffee, classic cocktails with a Thai twist, and its own snack menu. Though Pai's official grand opening isn't until July 5th, its doors are open now. Here, Jeff Regular provides a brief history of how Pai came to be.
Why did you decide to open Pai?
Basically, Sukhothai was the first thing we opened here. We opened that with our parents and then things were going really well then we wanted to try something bigger so me and my wife opened up Khao San Road. That was actually almost going to be called Pai but I had that name, Khao San Road, in my head for eight years already. And that was almost everything I wanted it to be in terms of content and atmosphere. We went in there 100% and all had the best time and then two years later, something happened and we weren't there anymore, basically. It was really tough for us. It definitely wasn't just by choice. My staff is my family. Whatever happened, happened and we weren't there one day. And we still have a passion for the restaurant business so we thought we would just bring that out. We didn't want to stop, that's for sure.
So Pai will be different from your other ventures?
We're trying to get a little more specific to Northern Thai Food— more to the region of Pai, which is very north, almost to the border of Burma. It's pretty cool because it has the Burmese influence. Pai, the region, is [also] where I met my wife. It's always been a very special place for both of us.
Right. You met on an elephant ride. Is there more to the story?
Nuit had been a nurse there for eight years and I was just backpacking and we hit it off. I went back to Canada— worked super hard, saved a bunch of money, and went back. I lived there for nine months or so and in that time we starting getting serious and we were thinking that maybe one day she'd move with me to Canada; she was kind of supporting her brother and her parents at the time. She was worried about what would happen if she left, and she thought it would be a nice chance for her to try to leave something for her brother. So we opened up the Curry Shack in Thailand and we had a blast.
How was Nuit's transition from being a nurse to a cook?
She'd been cooking all her life so she just knew it— it was in her veins already but she's such a good student and being a nurse is such a big deal so that's what she strived for. She was always cooking on the side and she loved it, so when we thought about opening a small shop, she just jumped into it. It was a pretty easy transition.
And the Curry Shack, your first restaurant together— how was the process of getting that set up?
There were a couple of things already in place but we jumped [the space] and built a couple of things on our own. And we just starting cooking food: We passed our inspection and that was pretty much it. It didn't take long. And then we made it a spot for backpackers and all the locals came as well because the food was delicious. It was pretty packed every night. In Thailand, it's not as crazy, especially in the small town where we were. In a matter of couple of weeks we were running a restaurant.
So nothing like Pai, then?
It's taken a lot longer. Before winter was what we were originally thinking [for the opening]. Every little thing that could have happened kind of happened. There have been so many more delays than we could have imagined but it's coming out almost exactly how we wanted it to in the end. We're really happy with the outcome.
How did you decide on the location?
We had a whole bunch of places on our list and some of them were far west and some them were like, Leslieville. We wanted to be downtown. There were a few spots we wanted and this is actually the first place we looked at. We walked in and the way it looked— I just knew I needed the place. It's a really beautiful spot.
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Pai. [Photo: Holly Edejer]