tom yum noodle soup photo by meera nagarajan

First Look: King & I’s new location in Richmond Heights

King & I will complete its relocation from Tower Grove South to Richmond Heights this week, with the local Thai institution set to open its new restaurant at 8039 Dale Ave. on Wednesday, Sept. 20. The Prapaisilp family’s restaurant ended its 40-year run in Tower Grove South when King & I closed its former location at 3155-3157 S. Grand Blvd. on Aug. 13. 

King & I’s new home is the 3,100-square-foot space at The Crossings at Richmond Heights, most recently occupied by Blaze Pizza. Jay Reeves, of local architecture and design firm Revel Architects, created the design for the space, which includes a natural touch courtesy of a bamboo feature covering the ceiling and part of the wall. The restaurant seats around 50 guests indoors, with space for roughly another 25 diners on the patio in front of the restaurant. 

The new restaurant is smaller than the previous location’s 5,000 square feet, but Shayn Prapaisilp, Chief Operating Officer of Global Foods Group, said it’s a much better fit for King & I’s business model as it stands today. “I think in 2023, 5,000 square feet is a lot of restaurant,” he said. “Pre-Covid, we were probably doing 80 percent dine-in versus 20 percent carryout. Now we're doing almost 60-40, so a slight emphasis on dine-in, but carryout has become a larger part of our business.” 

Optimizing service for both dine-in and takeout customers was one of the cues for the restaurant’s design, with several features designed to streamline takeout orders. A space at the entrance lobby accommodates customers or delivery drivers waiting for pickup orders, while a corridor linking the kitchen and hostess stand means takeout orders can be bused without any impact on the atmosphere for dine-in customers. “Both for front of house and back of house, it's just improving the flow of the restaurant space to begin with,” Prapaisilp said. 

Prapaisilp said that while the family still retains a presence in the city with its other restaurant, Chao Baan, the King & I’s new location makes it easily accessible wherever you are in the St. Louis region. “I think we've really expanded our potential customer base,” Prapaisilp said. “A lot of our longtime customers have moved out further west, and they're excited that it's now much more on their way. We're going to capture the Clayton lunch crowd, and Webster Groves isn't too far south.” 

Although the space is a conscious modernization of King & I’s brand, Prapaisilp said that customers will find continuity where it matters most: the food. That means that King & I regulars will find all their favorite dishes from the old location migrated to the menu at Richmond Heights. “We’ve made a few small edits, but when something has been successful for 40 years, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel too much,” Prapaisilp said. He said that eventually the kitchen will offer specials, and that he’s excited to see the restaurant work on developing new dishes, but King & I’s center of gravity will be the classics it has built its reputation around: Thai red curry duck, fish pad ped, Queen of Thailand stir-fry and more. “I think eventually it will be more of an addition versus subtraction,” he said. One new dish that has been added is the tom yum noodle soup, which Prapaisilp said is a variation on the spicy tom yum goong seafood soup. “There’s a little bit more palm sugar, so it’s slightly sweeter, but you’re still going to get that punchy, sweet, sour, spicy flavor,” he said. 

Prapaisilp’s parents, Suchin and Sue, opened the first iteration of King & I at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Humphrey Street in 1983, before moving to 3155-3157 S. Grand Blvd. In 1993. Over the ensuing decades, King & I established itself as a go-to landmark for Thai food in St. Louis. 

King & I will open six days a week, serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Monday. The restaurant will close on Tuesdays.