The Thai has turned for South East Café owner

Selina Ip has opened at a second location called Selina’s Thai on Murphy Road. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Selina Ip’s car is practically on autopilot these days, running between her East Street café and her new Thai restaurant on Murphy Road.

She’s back and forth six days a week, ensuring all is well at each location. It’s busy, but that’s the way she likes it.

Selina’s Thai opened June 21 in a high traffic plaza just south of the Real Canadian Superstore. It’s a natural addition to Ip’s South East Café, a successful eatery she opened in 1995 and built from the ground up.

In the café’s early years, Ip concentrated on serving breakfast and lunch with the focus on fresh ingredients and personal service.

She targeted the breakfast trade when she first opened because she was new to the restaurant business and cooking breakfast was easier, she said.

Over the years, Ip put in long hours, honed her skills and developed a reputation as one of the go-to breakfast and lunch spots in Sarnia. She began to think about offering dinner at her restaurant as well.

“We closed the café at 2 p.m. and I’d go home. But I wanted to have more to do.”

Ip, originally from Hong Kong, was drawn to Thai cuisine, primarily by the challenge of successfully combining salty, sweet and sour flavours.

“I went to Bangkok twice to take classes,” she said. “My first attempts weren’t so good but then I got better and better.”

Soon she introduced Thai dinners at South East Café and was impressed by the popularity of her Thai menu.

“Customers started coming in at lunch and asking for Thai and they’d leave when they realized it was only for dinner.  We tried to have both menus for a while but it didn’t work. It was too much at one location.”

When 580 Murphy came on the rental market, Ip signed a lease within the week. She upgraded the kitchen, moved her signature orchids into the front window and transferred the cooks she had personally trained at the café to cook Thai.

These days, the café is open until 2 p.m. and offers strictly western fare. Selina’s Thai opens from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

Soups such as hot and sour prawn ($5.50) are available, as are spring rolls ($4.95 for two) and coconut shrimp ($8.95).

Entrees come with steamed jasmine rice and include the popular stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts ($12.95), Singapore noodles with chicken and shrimp, egg, bean sprouts and onions in a yellow curry paste ($17.95), and sesame chicken with mixed vegies ($14.95).

There are four varieties of curry ($13.95 – $14.95), as well as pad Thai ($12.95 to $17.95 depending on meat selection), stir-fries and Thai desserts like deep fried banana ($5.50).

In the first month of business, Ip said the demand for her Thai food has doubled from what it was at the café.

“We were busy right away and every day I have a dozen people asking for menus so they can do takeout.”

Her new restaurant has created three new jobs, primarily in the kitchen. Ip makes sure she is the face customers see in the front of the house, greeting them, explaining menu options and serving.

“My waitresses are wonderful,” she said. “But I have so much passion about the cooking and I want to talk to my customers.”

Selina’s Thai at 580 Murphy Rd. can be reached by calling 519-337-8776.

Got an interesting business story?  Contact Cathy Dobson at cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or 226-932-0985.