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Thai Elephant Opening Restaurant In Verona
The owners of the very popular Thai Elephant food truck are going to be opening a restaurant in Verona this spring.
Jon and Pupay Hepner have leased the space next to Kate’s Kreations on Grove Avenue that used to be the home of Tortilla Sunrise. The restaurant will be called Aroy-D, which Jon Hepner says means “very yummy” in Thai.
“We’re excited,” he says. “This is a big change for us.”
The Hepners’ food truck has been on the road to success since the fall of 2011. Pupay Hepner was born and raised in Thailand, and went to culinary school there. She met her husband here in the U.S., where he was an IT professional. He would often bring his wife’s cooking for lunch, and soon she was cooking regularly for a dozen of his office mates. When layoffs loomed at his work three years ago, Hepner decided it was a sign that he needed a career change. He bought a used truck and, working on it nights and weekends, turned it into a haven for Thai street food. “I built the truck from Google and YouTube,” he quips. They began by parking it near the PATH stop in Hoboken and Hepner would corral commuters while his wife prepared the food.
Some Veronans have been lucky enough to catch the Thai Elephant in Montclair, where it sometimes parks by Montclair High School or in front of Olive That! And More, a store owned by Verona residents Steve Lehrhoff and Jennifer O’Sullivan. The Thai Elephant also hangs out at street festivals and corporate events. “We could be open seven days a week if we had a kitchen,” Hepner says he told his wife not long ago. To which she replied, “Why don’t we open a restaurant?”
Food trucks in most parts of the U.S. need to operate with a commissary, a place where the truck can be parked overnight and its operators can prep the food they sell. The Hepners had one, but it didn’t suit their growing needs. So when Lehrhoff, a friend, told them about the space in the Krauszers strip mall, they were all ears, big elephant ears.
When it opens in late May, Aroy-D will serve lunch and dinner, primarily takeout at first, while feeding the food truck business. Until then you can follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and, of course, the road. “What we do is very unique and authentic,” Hepner says. “Eating is everything in Thailand.”
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