Every Thai meal is prepared to appeal to four of the five senses. The enticing aromas might be the first sense awakened as diners step off West Cypress Street and into the warm and welcoming Café de Thai. Chef Jaruwanee Primo’s award-winning and fragrant dishes are also elegant and beautiful. With her eye for color, composition, and balance she assembles plates that look almost too good to eat. But tasting its wonderfully complex flavors is the heart of the experience of Thai food. “There are five essential flavors in Thai food,” Jar explains. “Salty, sour, spicy, bitter, and sweet. At least three of these flavors should be present in every dish, and they work together and complement one another, as do the various textures.”
There are five essential flavors in Thai food.
“And the fifth sense,” says Jar’s partner Jay Dye, “is the sound of wine glasses clinking together to toast to the meal. That’s why we’re a BYOB!” He smiles as he describes some of his favorite items on the menu, including Kaw Soi, chicken with curry broth and crispy noodles, and yellow curry. “All of Jar’s sauces are homemade and have distinctive flavors I’ve never tasted anywhere else,” he says.
Some of the most popular items on the Café de Thai menu are their signature Pad Thai, drunken noodles, their cashew nut entrée, basil fried rice, and Crab Rangoon, as well as the mango sweet sticky rice for dessert. Most entrees come with a choice of protein (duck, seafood, chicken, beef, or tofu) or vegetables, and many items can be made to suit vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free diets.
For all its complexity, Thai food is accessible and caters to every taste. There’s a common misconception, Jay says, that Thai food is spicy. He emphasizes that each dish is prepared individually and is only ever as spicy as you’d like it to be. The “heat numbers” on Café de Thai’s menu range all the way from zero (no spice) up to five. Café de Thai is family-friendly, too, and offers a children’s menu with plenty of choices for young diners.
Each dish is prepared individually and is only ever as spicy as you’d like it to be.
Thai iced tea is another unique and authentic experience diners enjoy at Café de Thai. Tea imported from Thailand is served with a splash of half and half to create a drink that’s a little sweet. Its main function, Jay says, is to temper the heat of spicy foods.
Jar explains that the intense, 700-degree heat of the wok is what makes the food taste so good, and so different. This method also preserves the nutritional value of the fresh ingredients she uses. Jar and Jay have been developing relationships with local growers and producers and, in a perfect marriage of east and west, Kennett Square mushrooms feature in many of their signature dishes.
Jar is focused not only on supporting local growers but also on developing relationships with local guests. “I set my prices to make sure everyone can come here and see me regularly,” she says with a smile. Throughout their first year here in Kennett Square they’ve been enjoying finding out what locals in their new hometown love. Crispy duck, for example, has been literally flying off the menu. As they approach their first anniversary in March, they’re looking forward to sharing an expanded menu which will feature some new items as well as a vegan section. “Look for some specials and updates around our first anniversary,” says Jay.
Café de Thai’s lunch specials, which include a wide selection of entrees served with Jasmine rice, a spring roll, soup, and a salad, have been very popular. “Our lunch specials are perfect for office workers here who want something a little different, and healthy, for lunch,” Jay says.
Bringing Thai Food to Kennett Square
Jar moved from Thailand to California in 2001. Friends and family recognized her creativity and love for cooking and encouraged her to open her own restaurant. She opened her first restaurant, in Lake Tahoe, to great acclaim and went on to open several more restaurants. She’s been developing her flavors and techniques for over 20 years and has cooked for thousands of enthusiastic diners, including celebrities, and garnered high praise wherever she’s gone.
When Jay, a Delaware native, brought Jar to Longwood Gardens in 2018, she fell in love with Kennett Square. But she knew there was something missing. “I couldn’t believe there was no Thai food,” says Jar, a seasoned chef and restauranteur who trained at the Wandee Culinary Art School in Bangkok. “I wanted to bring real, authentic Thai food to the people here.”
Jay has fond childhood memories of visiting his grandparents in Chadds Ford every Sunday and has always loved the area, so he was happy Jar felt the same way about Kennett Square. When they started to look at possible locations for a restaurant here, they were delighted with the possibilities of the former Kennett Pizza building on West Cypress Street that was being renovated by Bob Norris and architect John Rosecrans. Jar and Jay found a helpful and kind advocate in Norris. “Bob’s really nice and wanted to help us make this happen,” Jar says. “He let us have input into the design so it was perfect for what we wanted.”
Norris says he purchased the building with a view to continuing the great revitalization work that Mike Pia started in the booming west end of Kennett Square. “I liked the location and really enjoy bringing buildings—residential or commercial—that are a bit tired back to life,” Norris says. “A Facebook poll helped to confirm the type of restaurants that our community wants—and a Thai restaurant was number one.”
In making the decision to open a business in Kennett Square, Jay was also able to take advantage of the low-interest Community Growth Fund loan program, a partnership between True Access Capital and the Borough that also offers technical assistance, support, and training for business owners. Café de Thai used this loan to fund some of their operating expenses and equipment. “I was 100% in support of Jay’s application,” Norris says. “This loan helped Café de Thai better fund the startup needs of another great addition to Kennett Square’s commercial attractiveness.”
Jay and Jar’s decision to bring Thai food to Thai-starved Kennett Square was prescient—anticipation built in the months leading up to the restaurant’s opening last spring. “Our soft opening quickly turned into a hard opening,” Jay says with a laugh. He and Jar moved swiftly to meet the demand by adding necessary equipment and hiring more staff and training them to Chef Jar’s exacting standards.
Celebrating a Year in Kennett Square
“We’re definitely glad we came to Kennett Square,” Jay says. “The community has welcomed us warmly and the customers are really nice. We have lots of return business—some even come weekly. We came here because we fell in love with the place, but now we’re so glad we’re here because we love the people.”
In addition to making improvements to the restaurant to ensure the dining experience is as enjoyable as possible, Café de Thai also makes take-out easy, fast, and user-friendly. Customers can order through the website and pick up from the restaurant or have their order delivered. “We’re also offering catering now,” Jay says, “and customers can make reservations as well.” Café de Thai offers seasonal patio seating, which Jay says will be pet-friendly in the summer with water bowls and treats for dogs. Another great perk of their location on West Cypress is free parking, and the restaurant is also within walking distance of State Street and many neighborhoods in the Borough.
We came here because we fell in love with the place, but now we’re so glad we’re here because we love the people.
—JAR PRIMO & JAY DYE
Café de Thai is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 9:30pm. For menu details and take-out orders go to cafedethai.us