A Twin Cities Dining Icon
1981-1990 - Nicollet Mall
Paul and Surin DeMuth conceived King and I Thai at the urging of friends who enjoyed Surin's Thai food at informal dinners. The King and I opened in 1981 on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. It was the second Thai restaurant in town, the first being the Siam Café on east Lake Street, which would later become Sawatdee.
With 9 years of Chinese cooking experience and a couple of years in the kitchen of the national chain Garcia’s of Scottsdale, I moonlighted as host. Pu, now my wife, came from Chicago to cook, bringing Thai home cooking style to the restaurant. Her belief was food first, everything else second.
1191-2012 - Lasalle Ave
In 1990 Pu and I bought the restaurant. 9 years later, Target Corp bought the whole block for their new corporate headquarters. This was boom times in the Twin Cities and occupancy rates were very high. After 6 months of searching, in 2000, King and I Thai found a new location at 1346 LaSalle Avenue — the basement location built out and made famous by the original Ciatti’s. The restaurant focused on dinner and the bar became a late night hot spot.
The building was sold in 2013 and the new owner's interpretation of the lease resulted in a 30% rent increase. There was no way to make it work with the increases in rent, insurance and utilities. After 6 months of attempting to negotiate with the new owner we received an eviction notice. In court it was agreed that we would cease business in 30 days and vacate in 45 days. I informed my staff so they could start making their plans. This was on a Tuesday. By Wednesday business had doubled. The staff used the social media to announce the closing date of the King and I on December 16th, 2012. Well, business just took off. I was concerned about how many of the staff would stay to the end because we where really getting beat up doing 75k a week in sales with a staff geared for 35k. Some of the kitchen crew were working till 4am. Only 2 out of 33 employees left early and they were recent hires. That final 30 days of business was one of the most impressive work efforts I have ever seen.
Every day I saw people come to work and the look in their eyes said they knew they were in for a beating but they kept on showing up for their shifts. We stopped doing deliveries and on the last week we unplugged the phones because no one had time to answer them. The last Sunday was unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it. The bartender opened the door at 4pm and a stream of people poured in. The valets were turning people away before parking them letting them know if you did not have a reservation you would not be able to be seated. People who had been a part of the King and I for the past 31 years just wanted to be there at the end. We felt bad because people were waiting for an hour for their food but they did not care. It was more of a going away party atmosphere. We were running out of food and beer and wine, they said just bring me what you have. The kitchen never did catch up that night and then it was over.
2015 - Mendota Heights
As with the move from our first location on Nicollet Mall, we have retained the phone number we have had for 31 years. Customers told me they just kept calling it periodically and finally after 6 months they heard "King and I Thai, may I help you."
We look forward to continuing to serve our customers quality, flavor and value along with convenience in Mendota Heights, MN where we are currently located.