Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Teeryayuth "Terry" Pramoulmetar treasures the notebook of messages.

At Large in Ballard: A Happy Ending

By Peggy Sturdivant

Terry at Tup Tim Thai restaurant on lower Queen Anne was one of those of people who could greet you by name even if you hadn’t crossed the threshold in years. For almost a decade the view from my fourth floor office was their front door. If I was meeting someone there for lunch I’d have them give me a wave.

Even die-hard brown-baggers in our environmental consulting office did occasional “take-out” from Tup Tim. I doubt there was a day when at least one person didn’t order their favorite from the twenty-item lunch menu. Which gave us the idea one day to order all 20 choices at once, which forever cemented my relationship with Terry (officially Teerayuth Pramoulmetar, one of the three owners).

Those of us who only ever ordered the #1 (red curry) alternating with the #14 (basil chicken) got to experience other wonders. The spicy garlic shrimp was a revelation. The pad thai colleague tasted the massaman curry, a dish that’s not always served because it’s difficult to keep the potatoes firm and the peanuts crisp. For years afterward we continued to eye each other’s take-out in the kitchen. Splitting an order was just the right amount for two people and only $4/person.

The Tup Tim Thai entrance wall was a gallery of accolades. Even as my workplace had its ups and downs the proximity to Tup Tim Thai was a consistent asset. One glorious year I was allowed into the kitchen to learn the secret of my beloved #14 from the head cook. I tried to make it at home but if you don’t roast your own spices it’s not as good. It was always better to call ahead or let Terry lead me to a table.

After 13 years with the consulting firm it was time for me to move on, despite Tup Tim Thai and the late great Metro Route #18 that offered me almost door-to-door service. Things were changing and indeed the company itself did not last many more years.

Still I would take new co-workers to lunch with me over on Queen Anne. No matter how many months or years in-between Terry would always greet me by name and give me a hug. I made a point to get there in the spring when they’d substitute fresh asparagus for broccoli in the spicy garlic shrimp.

After becoming my “At Large” self ten years ago, the visits grew even less frequent. Still anyone who has known me for the last 20 years forwarded me the news last year that Tup Tim Thai was closing because the landlord had decided to double the rent (from $4,000 to $8,000). I wasn’t able to get there before their closing date.

Sometimes I’d still see Tup Tim’s listing in a magazine or playbill and wonder, was it like an online ghost? Had they opened in another location? Then I parked near there to attend Mayor Murray’s neighborhood summit. I looked in the windows at 118 West Mercer. It didn’t look like a restaurant that wasn’t going to be open for business on Monday. So on Monday I called the old number.

“Tup Tim Thai,” someone answered, amidst background noise. All I could muster was, “You’re open?”

“Tup Tim Thai,” someone repeated and I just said, “Thank you,” and hung up.

The next day I told an old friend I had a surprise for lunch. When we parked she said, “This is near where we used to go to that Thai place.” Bingo.

It wasn’t as crowded as in the old days and to be honest Terry didn’t recognize me right away. The food was unchanged, as in delicious. “What happened?” I asked Terry after we had reunited, “and why didn’t I know?”

What happened is that legions of Tup Tim Thai regulars dedicated themselves to saving the restaurant. They had a petition signed by hundreds and besieged the landlord. They created a notebook for people to write their Tup Tim stories and messages. Terry said he had to keep going in the back to wipe away the tears. Uptown Alliance managed to get the landlord to the table. Meanwhile what was to be their last month in business was the one of the best one in 25 years in business.

After a month of uproar there was a compromise; a lease signed for a year at a time. But there wasn’t a news crew for when Tup Tim Thai didn’t close so I didn’t know for a year, proving once again that bad news that travels fast, not good.

Terry showed me the notebook in his front drawer along with “The Queen Anne/Magnolia News” article about the happy ending last May. Business hasn’t been as good as the old days, too many people like me who didn’t know they were still open, “but good enough,” Terry told me.

Looking at the clipping and the notebook I thought about all our business closures and moves in Ballard. I was a bit jealous and in awe that the community had successfully rallied to keep the doors open on a business they loved. So there was a happy ending for Tup Tim Thai. Good news may not travel fast but in the end it lasts longer.

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