Kalaya Thai Kitchen, the James Beard-nominated BYOB in South Philadelphia, plans to open a second location in summer 2022 in Fishtown. Owner Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon will be working with Greg Root, chef Nick Kennedy, and Al Lucas, the partners from Defined Hospitality (Suraya, Pizzeria Beddia, R&D Cocktail Bar, and Condesa/El Techo).
Kalaya Fishtown, with 160-plus seats in a former warehouse on Palmer Street between Front Street and Frankford Avenue, will join a burgeoning scene in that slice of the neighborhood. The site is across an alley from the soon-to-open Stephen Starr Mexican restaurant LMNO and Evil Genius Beer Co. It’s also about two blocks from Defined’s first project, Suraya, the Levantine market and café, restaurant, and outdoor garden.
This Kalaya location will have a full liquor license and be open daily.
It’s been quite a 2½-year adventure for Suntaranon, whose restaurant has picked up nods from Esquire (best new restaurant in America for 2020), the Beards (a finalist for best new restaurant for 2020), and Food & Wine (best new restaurant in America for 2020).
Philadelphia is a small town disguised as a big city, and it turns out that Suntaranon and Root have known each other since 2007.
Back then, Root was general manager of Pod in University City, where Suntaranon’s husband, the globe-trotting Wharton professor Ziv Katalan, was a regular. Root and Katalan bonded over their significant others’ being Thai. (At the time, Root was dating his now-wife, Danee.)
The four met up during a trip to Bangkok. Suntaranon — a former flight attendant — was then running an Italian restaurant in Thailand. After moving to the United States and settling in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood, Suntaranon earned a degree from the International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) in New York. She opened Kalaya on Ninth Street near Catharine with a now-former partner in early 2019.
Defined Hospitality will operate the restaurant, “and we’re going to help her be the best that she can be in terms of the food and her presence,” Root said. “We’ll take care of the business.”
The restaurant, requiring a full build-out from a raw space, is still in its design phase. Its look will be “clean, lively, green, sophisticated but not sophisticated in an unwelcoming sense,” Suntaranon said. “We’re going to have a lot of greenery and natural light in there.”