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Restaurants

Thai Spice Rebrands To Chow Thai

By Jessica Maurer, posted Aug 18, 2020
Customers can still get their Thai Spice favorites at the Carolina Beach Road restaurant now called Chow Thai. (Photo courtesy of Chow Thai)
Larry O’Connor, along with his mother, Goy O’Connor, have owned and operated Thai Spice in Monkey Junction for nearly 10 years, having built a loyal following of customers.

But like many business owners, the O’Connors have been forced to rethink their business model in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The family estimates that carryout accounted for about 50% of their business prior to the start of pandemic, but now, that has risen to over 90%. While they are thankful that they specialize in a cuisine that lends itself well to carryout, this shift has had a significant impact on the way the kitchen functions, particularly given that they are currently operating with a limited number of staff.

The staffing limitations are in part to provide for social distancing, but the O’Connors are also currently working without the Thai chef they hired in March who has been unable to relocate to North Carolina due to travel restrictions.

To top it all off, Larry O’Connor said his kitchen only allows for two stir-fry dishes to be cooking at the same time.

“As a result of the pandemic we’ve had to think about best approach for working with fewer people in the kitchen and increased demand for carryout at peak times,” he said. “When everything is to-go and everyone is ordering at the same time, we get a lot of tickets all at once and it drives up the wait times. Even for simple orders people may have to wait an hour-and-a-half just because of all the tickets ahead of them.”

The O’Connors response has been to rebrand the eatery as Chow Thai Restaurant and to begin carrying a number of ready-made items such as Bang Bang Shrimp and Massaman Curry at lunchtime.

While the full menu is still available for both lunch and dinner, and sushi is always made to order, having a few items already prepared as part of this new quick-service model can cut down on wait times significantly.

For now the ready-made meals are only available at lunchtime, but they may soon be available for dinner as well.

Larry O’Connor said that the rebranding has been a bit difficult because while he wants his customers to understand that it’s still the same menu, the same recipes and the same family running the restaurant, he felt that keeping the same name may have caused people to think that the Thai Spice they had come to know and love just wasn’t the same.

He said that in many ways Chow Thai is the same as it’s always been as Thai Spice, but this is really just an updated version that allows the restaurant to better serve its customers both now and in the days ahead. 

The made-to-order menu has changed very little with the exception of the elimination of six or so items that were labor intensive and required a lot of preparation time. For example, Chow Thai still carries soups, just not as many as they did previously. 

Larry O’Connor said that despite some initial confusion, the response so far has been positive. Now that his customers realize they can still get their favorite meals and that the changes have been made in order to better serve them, they have warmed to the updates. 

As the O’Connors posted on a recent Facebook message:
“If you’re still calling it Thai Spice, it’s okay. We still do as well.”

Chow Thai is located at 5552 Carolina Beach Road and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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