When Siam Thai closed its doors for the last time on Feb. 28, there were customers who actually wept. After 39 years of operating their restaurant in Matteson and then Flossmoor, owners Noi and Nate Monaikul acquired a large number of regulars – many of them becoming friends.
“We had some customers who had been coming in for 20 or 30 years,” said Noi. “Many of them know our kids from when they worked at the other location when they were younger. Some came to our kids’ graduations and baby shower. There are customers who have passed away and we’ve gone to their funerals. We are so thankful for the support of our customers. We wouldn’t have been here if it weren’t for them.”
Those kids have grown up and earned PhDs and moved on from helping at the restaurant. In fact, the Monaikuls recently became first-time grandparents – and that’s where they plan to focus their energy in their retirement. “That’s our new full-time job for both of us,” said Noi. “We have a new grandson, and we have to take care of him.”
The plan was originally for the couple to retire three years ago, but when the pandemic hit, they decided to keep going a little longer. “We were supposed to retire at 62, but we decided to extend it three more years,” she said.
Noi had majored in science in college with plans to go into nursing, but cooking was her first passion and when she told her parents of her desire to have a restaurant, they helped her get started in opening the business. That was back in 1984.
People in the South Suburbs knew little about Thai cuisine at that time, and the restaurant was originally called Siam Thai Chinese Restaurant (they dropped the word “Chinese” when they moved to Flossmoor). She enjoyed bringing the flavors of her native Bangkok to customers and introducing so many of them to Thai cuisine.
The timing worked out well because they were able to find a buyer for the business at the right time. The restaurant had occupied space in Flossmoor Commons for the past 18 years.
While Noi said that she and her husband are both planning to retire full-time from the restaurant business to help as caregivers for their grandson, she said she still sees herself spending some time in the kitchen and maybe helping out friends.
“I’ve even told the new business owners that I can come help a little,” she said. “I don’t want a fixed schedule, but am willing to help if I’m free and available.”
The wear on the body is something that she won’t miss about the daily grind of operating a dining room and carry-out business. “It was time to go. It’s very hard and takes a toll on your body. You have a lot of body pain – back pain and leg pain,” she said.
In the end though, it was the customers who kept them going as long as they did. “It was great. We had so many people who supported us. We thank them for supporting us all along,” she said.
Once the announcement was made that Siam Thai’s last day of business would be Feb. 28 (some patrons were sent an email with the news on Feb. 21), Noi said that diners came pouring in to enjoy one last meal.
“We were so busy. Before my customers never had to wait more than 20 minutes. The last week people waited over an hour, but were happy to do so. Everybody cried and said they’d miss us. We were swamped.”