Two Bangkok natives yearned for a taste of home in downtown Chicago, a part of town where dining options have shrunk largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent employee exodus office in the region. Patt Tongphong and chef Tom Deethian have solved their problem with Keadkao Express, a fast food stand that debuted this month at the Urbanspace Washington food hall in the Loop.
Keadkao emphasizes the rich, herbal cuisine of southern Thailand. Selections include green curry chicken, sautéed vegetables, and garlic fried Hadyai chicken (also spelled “hat yai,” after the town it’s from). Specials will include massamun curry with beef, tom yum soup with jumbo prawns and pad thai from Deethian, which sold out on opening day.
For the owners, it seems they arrived in Chicago at a time when locals are embracing cuisine from northern Thailand and other regions over the default that southern Thai cuisine represented for centuries. years when it was introduced decades ago to the city. Tongphong and Deethian met as interns and graduate students at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Both felt that quick and tasty midday options are limited for workers with short lunch breaks, especially when it comes to regional Thai selections. “When I first tasted Thai food here, I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone brought a southern Thai style here?'” Tongphong says. “It’s so rich in flavor with lots of herbs in the food. I talked to Tom – that might be our unique perspective.
Although Keadkao Express is the couple’s first business, they are not new to the world of hospitality. Tongphong comes from a family of restaurateurs and brought recipes from Pattalung, their 31-year-old restaurant, to Chicago; Deethian supported himself for five years as a restaurant cook in Australia while attending school. It was a transformative experience, thanks in large part to the head chef who took Deethian under his wing, he says.
Tongphong and Deethian have big dreams for their new venture, hoping to leverage a combination of their business degrees, modern technology and traditional recipes into a 100-site empire across the United States “We want to bring the energy of ‘a younger generation,’ says Deethian. “We don’t just want to take customers’ money. We want to share the culture and make sure everyone is happy when they come to eat my food.
The couple are also happy with the energetic atmosphere of Urbanspace Washington, the New York-based restaurant chain’s first Chicago outpost. Urbanspace is also set to unveil its long-awaited follow-up inside the Willis Tower, which operators had hoped to open in late spring. According to a representative, supply chain issues have disrupted this timeline, but the room is expected to launch sometime in 2022. As for the name, Deethian and Tongphong combined their mothers’ names to create their image. brand – Keadkao is a term makeup.
Kead Kao Express, 15 W. Washington Street inside Urbanspace Chicago; Open 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 7 a.m. at 9:30 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday.