Atchara Cooley has been around Thai cooking her entire life.
As a child growing up in the small town of Kamphaeng Phet in Northern Thailand, she helped her mother prepare meals for her six brothers and sisters. As an adult, Cooley has worked in several restaurants in Thailand and the United States, where she’s made her home for nearly four years.
Now Cooley, with the help of her husband Steve, is taking her intimate knowledge of Thai cuisine to the Top of the Hill Plaza in Chestnut Hill with Thai Kuu, a BYOB restaurant that could be open in February.
The thrust of Thai Kuu – a partial play on the couple’s last name – will be serving authentic dishes from Cooley’s childhood including various stir-fry and pad-thai recipes. But the menu will also be infused with interpretations of fare from across Asia.
Day to day, Cooley will wear two hats as both the owner and a member of a three-person cooking staff. She’ll be joined in the kitchen by a head chef and her brother, who is in the process of moving to the U.S.
Steve, an engineer for Boeing, will be around to help his wife on weekends and has already put in a number of weekends and holiday hours to get the projected 45-seat eatery off the ground.
Cooley said the two stumbled upon the 1,250 square-foot location while walking around the neighborhood.
“We got lost and we turned around and said ‘oh, this looks nice,'” said Cooley.
And they’re glad they did.
Cooley said she sorted through hundreds of listings in the area and physically took a look at five spaces. But most of them were in strip malls and many were not wired to be a restaurant.
That’s one of the practical reasons why the Media couple chose to open in Chestnut Hill. The property, which sits behind a SEPTA bus depot off of Bethlehem Pike near Germantown Avenue, formerly housed the Persian restaurant Shundeez.
Steve said the plaza’s large parking lot and State Store were also big selling points.
But Cooley added that she felt more at home with the overall pace of Chestnut Hill. “The people are laid back,” she said. “They take their time.”
While much of the restaurant’s menu and décor details still need to be finalized, the couple is confident the restaurant will do well.
“Everyone we’ve been talking to has been saying ‘We’ve been waiting for you guys. When are you going to open? We’ve been craving a Thai restaurant forever, ‘” said Steve.
The couple is hoping to be open for lunch and dinner by Valentine’s Day.