Oct. 14—When Rice Modern Thai in West Reading closed its doors in August, a new Thai restaurant immediately sprang up in its place.
And at Spoonful Thai Bistro on the 600 block of Penn Avenue, do-it-all owner and chef Julaluk Khamnoi is already receiving rave reviews.
"I'm the server here sometimes, too," said Khamnoi, who also goes by Julie. "So when I come over to ask, 'How is everything,' and they finished their food, that means I passed.
"They eat it all and that makes me happy."
A native of Thailand, Khamnoi is cooking up authentic southeast Asia flavors — including American favorites like drunken noodles with seafood, pad thai, khao soy and papaya salad.
"A lot of places don't use papaya," she said. "Everything here is the same product as what's used in Thailand, as long as I can get it."
But while Spoonful Thai Bistro is, in some sense, picking up where Rice Modern left off, the new restaurant marks a fresh start for Khamnoi.
Feeling more at home in West Reading
Khamnoi immigrated from Thailand in 2010, initially settling in Las Vegas. She started working in the restaurant business, then later landed a job as a table game dealer in a casino.
"I tried to work in the casino, but it's not what I like, so I came back to the restaurant business," she said.
Having performed all the functions in both the front and back of the house, Khamnoi started thinking last year she could open her own restaurant.
In Berks County, she found exactly what she was searching for: a big kitchen and a change of scenery.
"I moved here because I was tired with my life, my job," Khamnoi said. "I wanted to try something new. I just know myself.
So far, she's getting exactly what she hoped from the journey.
"I love it here so much compared to Vegas," Khamnoi said. "I love the trees, I love the weather. It's a big difference. Over there, there's no trees, no nothing. I love it when I see all green.
"I feel more at home here."
Continuing to dream big
In addition to being happier with the geography, Khamnoi is also realizing just how strong her passion is for preparing authentic Thai cuisine and serving her guests.
"Normally, I would just cook at home and eat myself, but here it's different," she said, gesturing to Spoonful Thai Bistro's cozy, colorful dining room. "When you cook and people say, 'Oh my God! Your food is so good,' it's different.
"I feel like, oh, I want to cook more. Sometimes even I don't know how good my food is, but then they finish the entire dish."
Khamnoi is still building up her regular clientele, trying to keep longer hours than the previous restaurant and entice nearby workers with daily lunch specials.
And if you've never tried Thai food before, she is more than happy to be your guide.
Long-term, Khamnoi hopes to expand to more locations, of course, perhaps with a partner — though, now that her first restaurant is open, she's thinking even bigger than where the next Spoonful Thai Bistro might be.
"Before, I just cooked in the kitchen and served, until last year I said I want to be an owner," she said. "Now, I look and see my landlord — and I want to be the landlord!"
Spoonful Thai Bistro
Address: 615 Penn Ave., West Reading