Paul Chaiyamart, owner of Thai Pepper in West St. Paul

Paul (Pornchai) Chaiyamart: Bringing Thai Food to West St. Paul

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The first and only Thai restaurant in West St. Paul, Thai Pepper, is the brainchild of Thai native Paul (Pornchai) Chaiyamart. It opened in late 2019 in the old Top Dog space.

Early reviews of Thai Pepper have been positive, meaning Chaiyamart just might be on to something.

About Paul Chaiyamart

Paul is originally from Thailand and has been in the U.S. for more than 10 years—most of that in Minnesota. He currently lives in St. Paul.

He was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and started a student exchange program in Thailand—Global Joint Thailand—that sent Thai students to study in more than 14 countries.

Thai Pepper is his first startup restaurant business.

“I always wanted to have my own Thai restaurant so I don’t need to struggle to find the food I like.”

Paul Chaiyamart
Thai Pepper at 1307 Robert Street in West St. Paul

Conversation With Paul Chaiyamart

Let’s talk with the owner of Thai Pepper, Paul Chaiyamart:

What brought you to West St. Paul to create authentic Thai food? 

I saw the location for sale on Craigslist. The price was right, the street looks busy, and most importantly there was no other Thai restaurant in West St. Paul. So we bought the business right away. 

What makes your Thai food authentic? 

I’m originally from Thailand and it is our family recipe. We maintain our ingredients as we do in Thailand such as curry, no dairy products, etc. 

A lot of people have pointed out the many businesses that have come and gone in that location. Why do you think you can make a carry-out/drive-thru restaurant work there? 

Yes, I heard and read a lot of negative comments about this place—after I bought the restaurant actually. But I believe the best way to keep that negative energy away is to make it work.

It is hard, I admit. The place is small so we kept the menu small and used the space wisely. Of course, it would be tougher if we were similar to the many other fast food restaurants along Robert Street, but for a Thai restaurant, West St. Paul is a blue ocean.  

I always wanted just a small carry-out restaurant because it’s my first restaurant business, but I wasn’t looking for a drive-thru in particular. When I found this place and saw there is a drive-thru, I felt it might as well have a drive-thru since there was not any Thai restaurant with drive-thru.

I did have concerns about what food to put on the drive-thru menu and how to serve it fast and fresh. I thought about preparing it in bulk so it’s ready to serve. But what if the food is not being sold fast enough like the fast restaurants? It wouldn’t be fresh anymore and after a while we end up serving soggy food to customers or wasting it. Eventually, the idea of “100% drive-thru” was put off. Now I wouldn’t call it a 100% drive-thru, but merely an easy pick-up, which is still a plus overall. If you order online, it will be very easy for you to just pick it up from drive-thru window without getting out of your car. That would be great in winter, wouldn’t it? 

What’s your favorite dish on the menu? 

Definitely the special item, pork belly stir-fry with Chinese broccoli. 

If someone is new to Thai food, what do you recommend they try? 

I’d first ask them if they like spicy food to see where they are. If the answer is yes, I’d say curry. If no, pad Thai is always the first thing to recommend.

How has COVID-19 changed things? How does business compare with before the pandemic?

In short, our business boosted after the coronavirus outbreak. Since we are doing carry-out only, the dining in shutdown didn’t affect us. Plus we have the drive-thru window which now truly becomes life saving. People feel safer just coming to pick up the food in the car and go. If they order online and pay everything online, the only conversation at the pick-up window would be the name of the customer that we need to ask to confirm their orders. Our staff at the window is wearing a mask—we try to be safe for us and customers as much as we can.

I would like to thank all of our supportive customers to support us through this difficult time. Please continue supporting local business anywhere, they really need your help at this time.

Thanks to Paul Chaiyamart for sharing his thoughts with us.

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One comment

  1. We went to Thai Pepper for the first time after reading this interview. We ordered ahead, the food was ready when we got there and it tasted delicious. We’ll go back for sure. Welcome to West Saint Paul, good luck with your business!

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