Turn Up the Heat at Thai Table

Thai Table Brings Authentic Thai to Plymouth.

Thai Table owner and longtime Plymouth resident Len Muehleisen knows Thai food can be intimidating for Minnesotans, but he points out that only a few of the restaurant’s menu items are inherently spicy. Most can be made anywhere from zero spice to “Thai hot.”

A Wisconsin transplant with an electrical engineering background, Muehleisen isn’t the person you’d imagine running a Thai restaurant. Neither he nor his wife, Yuphadee Muehleisen, who goes by Toy, expected to be in the business. Toy was born in Thailand, where she was a rice farmer. “I never thought I’d work at a restaurant at all — it’s a big difference.

All my life I just farmed,” she says.

Len’s path to Thai Table began after a tsunami struck Southeast Asia in December 2004. “If I wouldn’t have gone to help clean up there, I never would have pursued anything like this,” he says. Having been to Phuket twice before, Len thought of the people he’d met working at restaurants on the beach. “But the real deciding factor was a Sunday newspaper article with a picture of one of the beaches in Phuket,” he says. It quoted a policeman saying tourists were still coming, but they were just taking pictures. “What they really needed is help, and that struck a nerve with me.”

Len raised $5,000 for the relief effort from friends and business associates, which was enough to help 10 families. He also helped to rebuild one woman’s house. He decided to go back a year later to see them, and that’s when he met Toy, who drove the woman to the airport to meet him.

Toy came to visit Len in Minnesota a couple times in the following years, and they went to his favorite Thai restaurant, the now-closed True Thai in Minneapolis, where she got to know the owner and several cooks. One cook had been asked by the owner of First of Thai, who was occupying Thai Table’s current space, if he wanted to buy it. Since he didn’t have any interest, he thought of Toy and wondered if Len might want to buy.

Len declined. However, he’d just reached the end of a five-year contract and was having trouble finding work because of the recession, so six months later he decided to give it a try. Though lacking restaurant experience, he had background in management and sales — plus the cook from True Thai wanted to work for him. “I had the right ingredients and decided to take a chance,” Len says.

That chance has worked out well for Len and Toy. They’ve known each other for 12 years now, the restaurant has been open for seven, and they’ve been married for five. “It was sort of scary to take a chance like that. I never thought I’d have a restaurant, let alone an ethnic restaurant,” he says. Over the years, Len has expanded the menu and added patio seating, as well as beer and wine.

He and Toy bought all the décor in Thailand, including the carved-wood molding. Toy and her mother hand-wove all the restaurant’s intricate grass placemats and made the table runners before she left Thailand.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Len’s electrical engineering skills have come in handy. He fixes dishwashers and other equipment that breaks, and he redesigned the restaurant’s rice cookers, which always broke within a year. He figured out which parts were failing and ordered new ones to improve the design.

The past seven years have given Len and Toy time to work out many operational details. The restaurant is almost entirely family-run, with help from Toy’s two daughters, her sister, her sister’s husband and her niece. “Getting good staff is the hardest thing,” Len says. “Now we’ve rounded the corner with that and have a real good staff in place right now.”

Pad Puk  
No. 36 on Thai Table’s menu

Pad Puk means stir-fried vegetable in Thai. This entrée includes a stir-fried combination of vegetables: broccoli, carrots, peapods, celery, cabbage, bell peppers and onion. And it’s easy to make at home.

How to make it:

Start by preparing about 2 cups of your favorite fresh vegetables. Cut into bite-sized pieces, put into a bowl and mix slightly.

Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl:
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1½ tsp. sugar
Pinch or two of ground white pepper
1½ Tbsp. soy sauce

Next, put about 2 Tbsp. of stir-fry oil in a frying pan on medium heat, along with 1 ½ cloves of crushed garlic. Stir and cook until garlic is light brown.

Add vegetables. Continue stirring until vegetables are about half cooked.

Add remaining ingredients and increase heat to high. Stir-fry quickly until the
vegetables are cooked.

Finish by adding ½ tsp. of tapioca starch, stir quickly and you’re done. Tofu, meat or seafood can be added as desired.

For fans of real spice
It’s not on the menu, but you can ask for lazy sauce — Toy used to make it for her grandfather when she was little. “When I’d cook it for him, he’d say, ‘Oh, you made the lazy sauce again,’ ” she laughs. The name refers to how quickly and easily the sauce comes together.