After four years of delays, chef Arun Sampathavivat finally opened his Thai Town Center in Albany Park.
The center is housed in an old police station and features a restaurant, noodle bar, wellness center, and Buddhist shrine.
On Sunday evening the chef was working the dining room, serving dishes and explaining the long delays.
“It has dragged on and on and we ran into dilemmas, one after another, he said. “We almost lost funding in the middle and we had to stop and raise funds again.”
The chef who brought upscale Thai food to Chicago with his elegant restaurant Arun says people had been asking him to open a casual place for years.
“For the first time people will have accessibility to eat my food and now they can’t complain [about price and exclusivity],” he said. “This will appeal to the public with affordable prices and we want to welcome little kids to start them on this kind of food early on.“
Currently only the shrine and the restaurant are open to the public, but Sampathavivat says that he hopes to open the noodle bar in the next month and the wellness center (which will be called Arunati) in 6 to 8 months.
In the meantime, the chef says he hopes food fans will come and enjoy his Thai cooking. He’s especially proud of his “sour curry and stewed pork ham hock.”
“I could never imagine that an American guest would have a stomach for sour curry,” he said. “But [Saturday] after he finished it, he ordered another to take it home. And the ham hock is the very best dish of Thailand. We only cook it a day or two each week and then we rotate.”
In 2011, the Thai Town project was awarded more than $1 million in tax increment financing from Ald. Margaret Laurino, who faced criticism for the move. But she defended it saying that she believed it would add value to the neighborhood.
The chef says he hopes to use the Center to attract national and international visitors to the neighborhood.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at email@example.com