ELMHURST — Tom Nuamcharoen has worked for three decades in restaurants throughout the five boroughs, in nearly every capacity, he said — from bartender to event planner.
He started his career at Windows on the World in 1983 and was there for a decade. Since then he has worked at restaurants across the city, but always had a desire to strike out on his own.
"At a certain point in my life, I wanted to own my own business," he said.
Earlier this month, he and his wife Alle, both 50, opened Tommy Thai, on Grand Avenue, near Van Horn St., after she sold Nahm Thai Kitchen, a restaurant in Park Slope she owned with a partner.
"We decided to take a chance, so we don't have to work under other people," who started at Windows on the World for a decade. The name "sounded right" and Nuamcharoen liked the alliteration, he said.
The couple, who live in Forest Hills, searched for affordable space throughout Queens and found the location on Grand Avenue, far from many of Elmhurst's other Thai restaurants on Queens Boulevard.
They've brought in an "old-fashioned" Thai chef who will cook classic dishes without much "fusion" he said — but Nuamcharoen steered clear of calling it "authentic."
"The word authentic is overused," he said, although it is used on their website. "There's no such thing as authentic Thai food. There's different parts of Thailand with different food, and it's hard to say what's authentic and what's not."
Nuamcharoen said their cuisine originates mostly from the northeast region of the country, with chef's specials that include a crispy pork and basil dish and a spicy seafood salad.
The restaurant is small, which is how they like it, he said.
"If it becomes too big, it's hard to take care of people," he said. "Here, I can talk to a lot of people and get comments."
An amateur photographer, he decorated the space with his photos from botanical gardens and other Thai-inspired art.
Their goal is to make their customers feel comfortable, to prepare fresh food and keep the prices reasonable for the neighborhood. They offer a weekly lunch special from noon until 4 p.m., with discounts on some of their most popular items that comes with a spicy Tom Yum soup.
Business so far has been good, he said, and the couple hopes to continue in the neighborhood for years.
"We set the price comfortably," he said. "We keep everything fresh, and we try the best we can."
Tommy Thai, 85-32 Grand Ave. open Monday through Sunday from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. Visit their website for more information.