About 16 years ago, Tony Street walked into a Thai restaurant on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas called Toy's Cafe and ate a bowl of crab noodles. He went back every day for two weeks.
"I went in and I saw her," he says of the restaurant's chef, Jab Srikaij. So he kept going back, day after day. "After a while, she finally said, 'Are you ever going to talk to me?'"
As they both tell it, they fell in love, fast, and were married within a few months. Maybe it was the crab noodles that brought Tony and Jab together. It might have also been Jab's corn patties, fritters served with a cucumber and rice-vinegar sauce that Tony raves about.
Doesn't matter. Both of those dishes, and many more, are going on the menu when their first Thai restaurant, Family Thais Asian Bistro, opens in the West End. The Streets hope for a July debut.
On both sides, cooking runs in the family. Tony's uncle started Black-Eyed Pea in 1975. The Street family operates several North Texas restaurants, and Tony is the managing partner at West End restaurant Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse, named after the family's 48,000-acre ranch in the Texas Hill Country where they have longhorns and giraffes as pets. Tony also co-operates two Street's Fine Chicken restaurants in D-FW. He's a French-trained chef.
Jab was trained to cook in her native Thailand and has worked in the United States for nearly two decades, first at Toy's and today as a pastry chef at Y.O. Ranch and at Edible Arrangements. She grew up hanging out in her grandmother's restaurant in Thailand after school, where she learned to make green curry and other dishes.
When Family Thais opens, Tony plans to display the phrase "The family that cooks together stays together" in the restaurant, written in Thai. Several of Jab's family members traveled from Pattaya, Thailand, to Dallas for four months to help the family open the business. They brought over colored parasols as gifts, which the Streets plan to hang from the ceiling of the new restaurant.
Family Thais will be located in the shuttered Dante's Italian Eatery, located next door to the famed Chipotle in the West End where rats reportedly "fell from the ceiling." (The Chipotle has since closed.)
Despite that bad PR, the West End appears to be on the upswing, with new restaurants and bars headed to storefronts in the coming months and an energized group of businessowners in the West End Association who want to establish the neighborhood as more than a tourist destination. There's the Sixth Floor Museum, coming-soon Dallas Holocaust Museum, and the Old Red Courthouse within walking distance of Tony and Jab's new restaurant. El Centro College is close by, too.
"Everyone assumed the West End has dried up and gone away, and it's just not the case," Tony says. Y.O. Ranch has been open down the street for 23 years.
The Streets were wary to give their restaurant a straight-ahead Thai menu, saying the neighborhood is a mix of commuters, college students, tourists and businesspeople who might not recognize all of Jab's dishes. So, they added crepes, bubble waffles and milkshakes. That's right: Alongside pad thai, panang curry and banh mi sandwiches, Family Thais will sell Nutella crepes, berry waffles and crème brulee milkshakes.
The restaurant will also sell boba tea and lattes.
It's an odd combination, but Tony's hope is the menu feels inclusive for anyone walking by. Plus: "The star of the show is the Thai food," he says.
The Streets have been testing out the business at the Dallas Farmers Market, where they've sold dishes for several weeks. Despite the long list of dishes Jab loves to cook, her pad thai has been the biggest seller.
Jab seems happy to be making her native food, since a part of her felt "gone" when Toy's Café closed and she was no longer cooking in a Thai kitchen.
"I feel happy," she says of her budding restaurant. "I'm getting to cook again."
Tony seems happy, too.
"I've been waiting for a long time to open a restaurant with her," he says.
Family Thais Asian Bistro will open at 208 N. Market St, Dallas.