A new authentic Thai restaurant is opening tonight in downtown Rapids City, Ill.
Thai Town Café, 403 17th St., Rapids City, has operated as a food truck for three years, but the permanent restaurant is having a grand opening today at 6 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony involving the Rapids City Village President.
A buffet of Thai Town’s top entrees will be available for sale, along with appetizers and drinks. Live music from The Rabbit Hole will be provided throughout the evening and followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and picnic blankets.
August is the three-year anniversary of the business, which began at Tug Fest in Port Byron, owned by Greg Kerner, and his Thai wife, Monthira – who’s the main cook and became an American citizen two years ago. This month is also her birthday and the couple’s ninth wedding anniversary.
The restaurant will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, closed on Mondays. They have an indoor 36-seat capacity.
“My wife spent her first year here as an immigrant working at the Group O logistics factory. She was always a great cook, so I encouraged her to start a food truck on the side and see what happens with it,” Greg Kerner said Monday. “My first intentions were to have just appetizers with two entrees to select from.
“Her first event was the Tug Fest in Port Byron, which is actually coming up this weekend,” he said of the food truck. “Her first day, she made three times more than what she made in one week at her regular job. Naturally, she resigned from that and decided to do the food truck full-time.
“The mayor of Port Byron loved our food so much that he gave us a permanent location on the riverfront with free electricity as well,” Kerner said. “That’s when Thai Town Cafe exploded with business.”
Within the first year, their Facebook page had over 2,000 followers and within the second year, Google showed they were searched 30,000 times monthly, he said, noting the Facebook page is still climbing with over 4,000 followers today.
“Thai Town has become such a success that I had to quit my job at Alcoa after 14 years because of the demand for me to be there as manager,” Kerner said. “We’re extremely proud of what my wife calls her baby! And I am extremely proud of my wife!”
At first, people told the couple that Thai food would not sell well in such a small farm community. “We were encouraged not to waste our time or money on investing in the trailer itself,” Kerner said. Nearly $20,000 went into that little 8-foot-by-14-foot space, but it earned them more than that back in the first 3 months.
“Our local community has been outstanding supporters of Thai Town Café,” Kerner said. “If it weren’t for their support, we never would have become what we are. My wife’s dream never would have became what it is, clearly an American dream. Our customers come from places far away as Erie, Illinois to Bettendorf, Iowa and everything between.”
The Kerners are considering building another Thai Town Café within the next 3 to 4 years, possibly in Clinton, Geneseo, or Milan.