By SARAH E. MORAN, Special to the Local News
WEST CHESTER — From tie one on to Thai wonton, the former Rex’s Restaurant & Bar has been transformed into Jazmine, a new restaurant featuring authentic Thai cuisine.
Gone is the stage that was once front and center at Rex’s, a comfortable, boozy dive of a rock-and-roll performance joint.
Now Jazmine, in the 300 block of West Gay Street in West Chester’s West End, features warm yellowish-gold walls, a new rectangular bar and an eventual liquor license.
Restaurant owners Josh Morton and Natalie Phrompeng (pronounced PROM-peng) opened the spot two weeks ago after five months of demolition and rebuilding that included “hauling away 11,000 pounds of junk,” said Morton.
The 32-year-old Morton is also an artist who owns 7 Arts Studio in Wilmington, Del. (Many of his surreal/abstract paintings hang on Jazmine’s walls.)
During its metamorphosis from rocker bar to restaurant, workers gutted the inside, built new walls and installed a new kitchen and hickory floors.
The partners spent more than $100,000 to accomplish this, while landlord Stan Zukin spruced up the outside, painting it a warm khaki color.
A financial administrator at The Vanguard Group, Phrompeng was once an owner of Thai Orchid in Frazer. After she sold her share in that Thai/French spot three years ago, she started looking for a place
to lease in West Chester. At the same time, she met Morton through a mutual friend at White Elephant, a Huntington Valley Thai restaurant where she once waitressed.
Before she opened Thai Orchid, Phrompeng in 2001 considered opening a Thai restaurant in West Chester but didn’t think the area was ready to support one.
She thinks differently now. “I am confident the restaurant will succeed,” she said. “Look at the success of Kooma [a Japanese restaurant several blocks east on West Gay Street]. West Chester is a young and diverse place and it’s ready for Thai food.”
The restaurant has about 90 seats, including space at the bar.
Dishes offered at lunch and dinner range from mild to incendiary, although Guy Ketchat, who helped Phrompeng develop the menu, was quick to point out that most dishes start out mild and can be spiced up by adding chilies and other traditional Thai condiments.
Among the hotter dishes are Lemon Grass Soup, Evil Jungle Princess (sautéeed chicken and veggies mixed with red curry) and Drunken Noodles (chicken and veggies stir-fried in a spicy Thai basil sauce.) Another dish is called Rolling Stone and pays homage to Jazmine’s musical past. It’s comprised of jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat, served on a bed of angel hair pasta and topped with panang sauce, a gingery curry/coconut sauce.
Eventual plans call for a 30-seat outdoor courtyard with waterfall, river stones, flowers and perhaps even a grill, though Morton said the restaurant needs a zoning variance to put seats outside. He also desires a larger sign out front, which would also require the borough to issue a zoning variance.
Phrompeng will continue to work both jobs, she said. “I like to work and the thought of holding down two jobs doesn’t bother me,” she noted. “I am involved in the business side of the restaurant, and also in the kitchen to make sure dishes are properly prepared.”
Currently, the restaurant employs six.
Asked about opening a restaurant in such perilous economic times, Morton cheerfully responded, “There’s always a larger market for food than for art. Everybody has to eat.”
To contact correspondent Sarah E. Moran, send an e-mail to [email protected].
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