WILMINGTON — From hickory smoked pork to spicy drunken noodles, a restaurant in Lumina Commons has switched owners and styles of cuisine.
James Romano’s former Primal BBQ — featuring eastern North Carolina barbecue and sides — closed last year. In its stead, Taweesak Sripan’s latest venture, Kapow Thai Street Food, will open soon.
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Kapow focuses on Thai, Vietnamese and Laos cuisine, created from recipes culled from the chef’s four decades in the culinary field. Sripan — who goes by Chef Peter — graduated from the Thai Royal Culinary School and worked under cuisiniers for the royal family.
“I learned how to cook when I was 11 years old,” Sripan said. “At the age 14 to 15, I was taught by a very old master chef who used to work in the palace of the Thai royal family.”
Thereafter, Sripan worked in restaurants and street kitchens in Bangkok before migrating stateside in the late 1990s. Since, he has sharpened his skills in hotel kitchens and restaurants; more so, he has become a seasoned businessman.
Sripan owned three eateries in Boston between 2004 and 2009, as well as in Vermont, Washington state, Kansas, Wyoming, Florida and California.
In 2014, he made his way to Hampstead temporarily to work at Sushi X, before helping open Sushi XI on Carolina Beach Road.
“I tell you, I love Wilmington,” he said. “So when I moved out it’s because it’s hard to find a job that pays well, you know.”
By 2016, the chef decided to go to the Queen City, where he worked at numerous restaurants, including Thai Basil and CO Charlotte.
He opened Rai Lay Thai Cuisine, which operated until 2020. Sripan had the opportunity to enter another venture with partners and launched Rice and Spice Thai the same year. He sold his shares in August 2022 to return to the Port City.
The 61-year-old wanted to be closer to his daughter, who lives here. He is opening Kapow with his sous chef, John Ousouphanh, from the Laotian city of Pakse, who also has family in Wilmington.
The Kapow Street Food menu consists of almost 50 items, sectioned by Thai curries, wok-fried noodles and noodle bowls, house specialties, soups and salads. Lunch specials are offered daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“All of our dishes are true reflections of the four culinary regions of Thailand,” Sripan said, referring to the central plains, north, northeast and south. Each uses spicy, sour, sweet and salty flavors in various ways; customers can choose the heat level they prefer.
“Spicy food protects you from sickness — this is what I believe,” Sripan explained.
Formerly from the northeastern area of Thailand, near the Laos border, food from the two regions are similar.
“If you are not Thai or Laos people, when you see the food on the table, you can’t tell what’s different,” Sripan said.
Laos is represented in a section of salads including Som Tum (papaya salad). It contains shredded green papaya, carrots, and green beans in a tamarind and fish sauce, with cherry tomatoes, lime and roasted peanuts.
There is also a northeastern version that tastes a bit stronger.
“In Laos, they add more fermented fish sauce and crab — also more spice than the original,” he said.
All of Kapow’s recipes are inspired by Sripan’s childhood and provide a sense of comfort, especially tasted in each bite of red, green and massaman curries, he said. Those dishes are balanced by tropical herbs — kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil — cardamom, cinnamon, chile and other spices.
“The key is not to make it overly sweet,” Spiran said. ”My recipe for khao sai, you know curry noodle, got the award-winning dish in Charlotte.”
Pho beef and pad see-lew, fried rice and Tom Yum Gai, plus signature dishes, such Pla Sam Rod (chili fried snapper), are on the menu. Prices range between $10 and $25.
The 1,500-square-foot restaurant seats just over 40 people, both indoors and outdoors, and will open by the end of the month.
“Right now it’s about 90% complete,” Sripan said. “We hope all inspections are done before Valentine’s Day.”
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