Two years ago, Seng Lodbansa and her husband bought a house in Palm Coast.
"It was for our golden years," she said. "We were supposed to retire here."
But while her husband is still working in Massachusetts, Seng opened a Thai restaurant — Thai and I Authentic Thai Cuisine — in Bunnell on May 1.
"My brother, Leng, said Thai restaurants are doing really well down here, so I told him to find a small takeout place with five or six tables. When I got down here, I found out it was 3,400 square feet. My husband drove me down on April 1, and we said, 'This is a small place?'"
The yellow building at 603 N. State St., used to be a Mexican restaurant and before that, it was a diner. Lodbansa is leasing the building but said she might eventually buy it outright.
Lodbansa moved to the United States from Thailand in 1981, "when Ronald Reagan was my president," she said.
She has been married for 33 years. She and her husband have grown children who also remained in Massachusetts. Lodbansa was a supervisor at a thermal film supply house for 20 years. She has also managed a Japanese restaurant, and cooked at a Thai restaurant.
"When I got down here, I found out (the restaurant) was 3,400 square feet. My husband drove me down on April 1, and we said, 'This is a small place?'"
"We love cooking. We learned from our mom growing up," she said. "We'll use any excuse to cook."
Her brother does most of the cooking at Thai and I, while Lodbansa is the owner and CEO. She has eight employees.
They renovated and opened the restaurant in one month.
"We're Buddhists, so we had a ceremony with monks, who prayed and chanted. The monk said May 1 was a good day to open."
Lodbansa is living in Palm Coast, but she is anything but retired. Thai and I is open six days a week for lunch and dinner. On Mondays, they pick up Thai basil and other herbs and produce at Sanwa Market in Sanford and other food and supplies at the Restaurant Depot in Daytona Beach. She also buys fresh kaffir lime leaves locally. That's the main ingredient in almost every Thai dish, she says. And she goes to East Coast Market in Palm Coast daily.
"We buy everything fresh. Some people might use frozen, but you can taste the difference," she said. "One customer told me, 'This is amazing, you use fresh Thai basil.' (Sanwa) won't deliver to us, but if driving there every week is what it takes to get the best food for our customers, that's what we'll do."
Lodbansa puts a whole bunch of Thai basil in the tom yum soup, not just a few sprigs.
"I tell my brother, 'The people know what they're eating. We can't scrimp,'" she said.
Business has been good, she said. Some of the popular dishes are house fried rice; crab and shrimp fried rice; and drunken noodle, which is a wide rice noodle with vegetables, Thai chili and basil sauce, egg and choice of meat.
Entrees range from $12.95 to $17.95 with the exception of Isan steak (ribeye) at $28.95.