CLARK, NJ – Petey Gosinanond had just emerged from the kitchen with a brown bag containing an order of goong pad ped when a woman suddenly draped her arms around her shoulders.
“We are going to miss you so much,” the woman said. “Thank you for everything. Thank you for your wonderful food.”
There were hugs, thank yous and goodbyes — even a few tears — this night.
Gosinanond and her parents, Alex and Cindy, have been saying goodbye to their customers since announcing May 27 that they would be closing the Thailand Restaurant on Central Avenue in Clark.
After serving up what they called “exotic, authentic” Thai cuisine for more than 18 years, signs recently posted on the front door and near the cash register announced the family was, with a “heavy heart,” closing the landmark eatery.
Petey Gosinanond cited her parents’ health as the reason for the closing, saying it was hard for them to keep up with the demands of running the establishment.
Cindy Gosinanond, who took a short break from clearing tables, jokingly said she would enjoy having a lot more free time.
“I’ll wake up and do whatever,” she said with a laugh.
But through the years, between so many plates of food, customers who walked through the doors became more like family.
“That’s what I’m going to miss most: the people,” Petey Gosinanond said. “I’m going to miss the people and all those faces that you come to know over the years.”
The customers who showed up for dinner Thursday, May 31, were met with an hourlong wait for a table. It was so packed that takeout orders could no longer be filled; the kitchen and service staff simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. Many customers waited patiently in the small open area near the door. Outside, more hungry souls sat on the steps under a light drizzle, waiting for their numbers to be called.
Between ringing up customers and helping the cook staff prepare take-out orders, Petey Gosinanond talked about how the restaurant had helped bond her family. Even her cousin, Tanya Serrano, was waiting tables on Thursday night.
She said the restaurant business “just sort of runs in the family,” adding that her grandfather owned a small restaurant in Thailand and, for his first 10 years in the United States, her father helped run other eateries.
When Alex Gosinanond finally decided to strike out on his own, he found a neglected 1950s-style diner on Central Avenue. The building, with its shiny, chrome-plated façade, rounded ceilings and tight quarters, may have seemed like an odd setting for Thai fare, but the Gosinanonds slapped on a few coats of paint, hung some East Asian art and made it feel like home.
“I remember painting the bricks outside,” Petey Gosinanond said. “When we first bought this place, it was really run down. The bricks outside, they were really dull. So, we painted the bricks red to give it some color.”
The Gosinanonds developed a customer base by serving up dishes made with recipes that had been in the family for generations.
Customers such as Sandra Ashton, of Winfield Park, will miss the food and the family. When she heard Thailand Restaurant was closing, she said, “I know it sounds crazy, but (I felt) devastation.”
“It’s like a second home,” she said. “You know their names. They even know my order. The tables used to be covered with paper, so I would write my order, very specifically, down. I want no peppers, I want extra cashews. I came in two days ago and they were like, ‘Do you want your massaman curry and extra cashews?’ They knew exactly what I wanted.”
Debbie Chaskin, of Westfield, said she will miss the pad Thai, a noodle dish that was always the most popular item on the menu. However, she’ll miss the people who cooked and served it even more.
“The family is awesome,” Chaskin said. “Love is the best ingredient they put in their food.
“It’s crowded here because people wanted one more meal. The roof could cave in and everyone would still be here.”