by Paula M. Riley
Chestnut Hill has been battered by several store closings in recent months, but at least one new business is about to open that should breathe a bit of new life into the top of the Hill. Thai Kuu, which will serve authentic Thai and Asian cuisine, will be opening at the Top of the Hill Plaza. It will occupy the former location of Shundeez at 8705 Germantown Ave.
There is little evidence of the former tenant’s décor at Thai Kuu. Owner Atchara Cooley, 29, and her husband Steve, 61, enhanced the space known for its large windows and proximity to Chestnut Hill’s only state liquor store. With new booths, bar stools, tables and chairs, the intimate restaurant now has seating for 40 people and a room for parties of 14. “We hope to open at the beginning of March,” said Steve. “I cannot give you an exact date because we are still dealing with city agencies.”
Although the Cooleys recognize that these enhancements, along with new warm paint colors, create great ambience, they believe Thai Kuu will be best known for its food.
Atchara was born in Thailand and has enjoyed preparing food for her entire life. Before coming to the U.S. three years ago, she worked at her sister’s restaurant and helped her mother prepare meals for her six siblings.
After securing her U.S. green card, Atchara worked in Thai restaurants in Tulsa and Seattle. She said she wanted to “work as a waitress but look at the restaurant from an owner’s eye.”
One of the things she learned while waitressing, besides the English language, was that some Americans have misconceptions about Thai food.
“All Thai food is not spicy,” she said.
At Thai Kuu, customers will have the option of ordering their food mild or with no spice at all. Customers may even have the spices brought to their table to add their own amount of spice.
Another unique feature of the restaurant comes from an old-fashioned cooking technique in Thailand. At Thai Kuu, meat and sushi-grade seafood will be cooked tableside on a natural stone heated to 300 degrees.
“This is a great, healthy, option since there is no oil used. All we use is sea salt,” Atchara said.
Since the stove stays hot for a half-hour, every bite is fresh and warm.
Offering authentic Thai cuisine comes naturally to Atchara, but it is equally important to Steve, who was very involved in setting up the restaurant. Now an engineer for Boeing, he and Atchara first met while he was on a one-year scholarship studying Asian culture and traveling all over Japan, China and Thailand.
He insists on authenticity because he doesn’t want Thai Kuu to be one of those “places claiming to be what they are not.” He added, “We are open to change the menu and explore more Asian dishes.”
When he and Atchara visited Chestnut Hill during a recent Fall for the Arts Festival, they were impressed by the warmth of the residents, the variety of restaurants and the “pretty, quiet town.” Although they found restaurant locations with lower rent, they knew that Chestnut Hill was the best place to open their first restaurant.
“We think people here will recognize that we serve authentic Thai food,” Steve said. “I think this is what will keep them coming back.”
Thai Kuu will be open seven days per week from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. There is a Web site, www.thaikuu.com, but for now it only has very basic information. A phone was not hooked up yet as of this printing.