Although her family owned a restaurant in Bangkok, where she worked until she went to college, Nutnisa Hoffman never intended to join the business. But after emigrating from Thailand and eventually settling into life in Kansas City with her husband, Doug, she found that she missed Thai food and enjoyed cooking it, as it reminded her of family and her home country. Spurred on by that passion, the Hoffmans opened Mali Thai Bisto in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, in 2015 and Baramee Thai Bistro in the Crossroads a few years later. This coming spring, the couple plans to open their third restaurant in City Market, where they will serve more of the Thai comfort foods that Kansas City residents have come to crave.
Do you associate food with home? Yes, and family. When I first moved here, my husband had no idea that I could cook. I asked him if they had Asian markets around here, and he said, ‘Yeah, down at City Market.” So he took me there, and I bought a lot of stuff: a big package of rice, curry paste, fresh veggies. We came home and I started to cook. There were only two of us, but I made a table full of food, and he was like, ‘Uh, what is this?’ He called family to come over, and after dinner, he said, ‘Wow, you can cook.’
What do you remember about opening your first restaurant, Mali Thai Bistro? Lots of paperwork. I realized that you can’t get exactly what you hope for, but I learned to adjust to make it work. I was concerned about fresh ingredients: When I first came here, fresh chiles were $3 to $4 [per half pound] at the Asian markets – kind of pricey. The main things in Thai food are chile, garlic, fresh herbs, cilantro roots, lemongrass, galangal, [makrut] lime leaves; all of that is really important to make authentic Thai food, so we started a garden. Now we have lots of chiles and at least 15 [makrut] lime trees. We try to be as authentic as possible. I know when I go out to eat, I want to feel something real – I want our customers to know that I care.
What made you decide to open a restaurant in the Crossroads? I used to come here on First Fridays to see the art and [I] saw how people enjoyed walking the streets. If you visit Thailand, that’s how it is on the street, and I just enjoyed the fresh [air], the art and the food. I wanted to share my food with the Crossroads community and have people come [to Baramee Thai Bistro] and open their minds to another cuisine.
Mali Thai Bistro, 579 SE. Melody Lane, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, malithaibistro.com
Baramee Thai Bistro, 1810 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, Missouri, barameethaibistro.com