WILMINGTON – In December, when Solange “Niki” Thompson and her daughter Marie Bartsch opened Indochine Express — the satellite location to its big sister Indochine — they also were formulating plans for a third restaurant. Now, the ladies and their Indochine restaurant group will be opening Café Chinois, a French-Asian establishment, by the end of March.
The café will be located in the former Southern Thai space, at the corner of South College Road and the North 17th Street Ext. in a strip mall near the New Hanover County Public Library at Pine Valley. According to Kathy Long, director of operations for the restaurant group, the menu will focus on Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and French-inspired cuisine.
Each dish listed on the menu will be notated by the country it’s inspired by, Long said. Price points will remain reasonable, with lunch tapping in around $10 or so and dinner being $18 and up.
Thompson included a variation of Asian influences, like Korean bulgogi and japchae (Korean sweet potato noodles). Chinese will make its mark, too, with roasted duck and a specialty fried-fish dish.
“And of course we will have Vietnamese crepes,” Thompson said.
The restaurateur is keeping 10 or so Southern Thai dishes on the menu, including their Southern fried chicken and Sriracha fried rice.
“If it was popular, we are keeping it,” Long assured.
“I’m also keeping all the staff of Southern Thai,” Thompson said. “They remained with me when I bought the business.”
Southern Thai was running only as a to-go restaurant because of Covid-19 regulations before Thompson bought it. Though no construction was needed upon taking it over, she said she and her designer Dennis Castro have been giving it “a little TLC.” Lots of Asian art will hang in the space, with lavender, purple, and turquoise green color schemes, as well as Indonesian wood carvings and crystal chandeliers.
“You know, aesthetic details that always makes Niki’s restaurants stand out,” Long said.
“You know I’m crazy about my art,” Thompson added. “I think one day, my last thing to do would be to open a Southeast Asian Art Museum and donate that to Wilmington and the school system for children to learn about global Asian art.”
The restaurateur said she will be switching out the artwork in the space frequently.
She also will be renovating the bar area to complement the cocktail program created by Holly Accomando. Accomando crafts Indochine’s bar menu currently and will be bringing over some of their most popular items like the Mai Tai and Naga Knockout. The latter was from Thompson’s first restaurant in 1975, and consists of dark rum, light rum, triple sec, peach schnapps, orange and pineapple juice, topped with a splash of grenadine.
“Holly has outdone herself,” Long said.
The dining area will seat around 40; however, the restaurant will be following Covid-19 regulations as instructed by the state. Currently, regulations for restaurants are set to 50% capacity.
There will be an outdoor patio for diners to enjoy as well. “We’re going to have plants, planters and some new lighting outside,” Long said.
Though at first Café Chinois will serve dinner only, lunch hours will be folded in and the restaurant eventually will open 11 a.m to 9 p.m. daily. It also will accept reservations.
Long said Café Chinois will be hiring front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house help in coming weeks. Anyone interested in applying can go by Indochine, Monday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The restaurant group will reveal its full menu soon on Indochine’s social media.
“We just got the artwork for it today — and it’s just great,” Long said.
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