Few Thai people are eager to leave their home country says Lenny DiMaio, owner of Noi’s Thai Kitchen in North Asheville. The warm, tropical climate; beautiful environment and emerging economy encourage residents of Thailand to stay put.
“They’re not looking to leave their country,” says DiMaio. “They only leave if they find a good opportunity.”
When searching for new staff for his restaurant, DiMaio hoped to offer opportunities enticing enough to persuade a few good Thai cooks to resettle in Asheville. His efforts actually began in 2000, with his wife, Noi.
Thirty years earlier, DiMaio met Noi while he was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He re-established ties with her during a return trip to Thailand in 2000, and after nine months of trying, he finally persuaded her to move to the United States, where they married. Five years later, the couple opened Noi’s Thai Kitchen with Noi as the head chef.
After Noi opened a second restaurant, Baan Thai Kitchen in South Asheville, DiMaio decided to see if he could bring other Thai people to Asheville to work at Noi’s Thai Kitchen and maintain its authentic flavor. During annual treks back to Noi’s home village, DiMaio worked at finding interested individuals until he met with success. The new chef, Tewan Likakitjaton, started in January, as did the front-of-house manager, Worawut Thachanitkul, whose Thai nickname is Det. Toy Pockca arrived in February. And soon, they’ll be joined by another cook, Sudkhet Yatprom. They all come from the same hometown in northeast Thailand, Udon Thani, and all have connections with Noi.
“Her house and my house [in Thailand] are about 10 minutes away from each other,” says Thachanitkul of Noi. “She’s like family.”
According to Thachanitkul, “everything is different” in the United States. In Thailand, he owns a business with his wife, who still lives there, but, Thachanitkul says, “I wanted to have a new life in the U.S.”
Noi and the new chef, Likakitjaton, each demonstrated and shared their cooking styles with each other, says DiMaio, and “they try and do the best of both.”