Husband and wife open ThaiKota, bringing flavors of northern Thailand to Fargo
T.J. and Gina Edra opened ThaiKota on New Year's Day at 1201 1st Ave. N. The couple are promising a menu unlike any other Thai restaurant in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
FARGO — There is a new addition to the Fargo-Moorhead area's Asian dining scene, and the husband and wife duo behind it promise a one-of-a-kind menu.
T.J. and Gina Edra opened ThaiKota on New Year's Day at 1201 1st Ave. N. in downtown Fargo. T.J., a Hawai'ian by birth, and Gina, from northern Thailand herself, handle everything at the upstart, six-table restaurant.
"It's just me and my wife running the whole thing," T.J. said. "We take the orders, we make the food, we give it to the customers, we serve the customers. We do everything."
At the recommendation of his grandparents, who live in Valley City, T.J.'s family relocated to Fargo when he was a sophomore in high school. He subsequently attended Northwest Technical College, now known as M State, in Moorhead to study culinary arts.
After 10 years as the head sushi chef at Wasabi, T.J. left the Japanese restaurant to pursue Gina's dream of owning a restaurant.
"My wife is an awesome Thai chef," Edra said. "She's very familiar with all northern Thai cuisine. Her dream was always to start her own restaurant."
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The menu is "fresh" and features "bright colors" with a major emphasis on fresh herbs such as basil, dill and mint, Edra explained.
The key differentiator between ThaiKota and other Thai restaurants in the F-M area is Gina's emphasis on northern Thai cuisine.
"We focus on mostly northern Thai," Edra said. "They have different flavors and curries. They use different herbs for different menu items."
While ThaiKota still offers Thai staples such as Pad Thai, fried rice and spring rolls, "everything else on our menu is totally different from any other Thai restaurant in this town," Edra added. ThaiKota's four signature northern Thai dishes are Khao Soi Curry, Kaeng Hung Leh, Nam Prik Oong and Keang Oom Moo.
For the uninitiated, Edra suggests sampling a variety of dishes.
"I recommend just trying a little of everything on the menu," he said. "A lot of different things on our menu have really bright flavors." Otherwise, novice patrons can select from the menu's "basic Thai" section, which includes a spicy stir-fried noodle dish called Drunken MaMa as well as basil and mint spring rolls.
For anyone who loves chicken wings, Edra pointed to ThaiKota's take: Gina's Fish Sauce Wings. The Thai tempura-battered wings are served with a fish sauce dipping sauce for an umami taste.
ThaiKota's most unique menu item is its papaya salad, Edra said. The papaya salad is served with either shrimp, fermented crab or pork. It also comes in a vegan variety.
While opening during the COVID-19 pandemic created its fair share of challenges, Edra said he's applied much of what he learned working at Wasabi to ThaiKota. "You have to change a little bit and learn how to run a restaurant with COVID-19. You've got to approach it a little differently," he said.
A main component of that approach has been a takeout-centric business model.
"We do everything like it's to-go," Edra said. "If you're going to eat in the restaurant, we'll have it open and make it look beautiful for you, but everything is in to-go boxes."
"I learned that strategy and it worked really well (at Wasabi), so that's the concept we're doing over here," Edra continued.
Edra has also leaned heavily on social media marketing as well as online ordering to attract customers.
"It's kind of fun and cool to see how social media works," he said. "I ask everybody 'How did you hear about us?' and they go 'My friend posted a picture of the takeout they got from you.'"
One Instagram post from a customer led to about 20 new followers in a half-hour, while another post about ThaiKota's vegan and gluten-free options brought in even more customers from a vegan Facebook page.
"It's not me doing this, it's the community," Edra said.
The goal for ThaiKota is to focus on its unique northern Thai menu . "'I don't want to copy anyone else in this town," Edra said. "There are some foodie people that want to try different things and they don't have the option in Fargo like they do in Minneapolis or a bigger city."
Moving forward, T.J. and Gina plan to offer "Gina's Kitchen," which will feature new weekly specials.
"As we grow, we're going to start releasing some more specials of some more authentic Thai dishes," Edra said. "We want to do a side project every week where we do a new dish."
Edra also hopes to secure a liquor license and offer beer and wine to compliment an outdoor patio during the summer months.
"You can enjoy a Fargo summer night eating spicy papaya salad with a cold beer," Edra said. "It couldn't get much better than that."