by Brandon Fox
UPDATE: Strawberry Thai owner Jo Best announced via Facebook that the restaurant and takeout spot at 407 Strawberry St. will close immediately. The post reads in full:
"Dear Customers, we are terribly sorrowful to inform you Strawberry Thai will be closed until further notice. The partner we were working with decided to take all of our money and go to Egypt. Jojo and her crew are looking for other locations and options. We loved cooking for you!"
06-12-2015: It’s been a particularly tough year for Jo Best. As co-owner of the Viceroy, she had to make, along with her partners, the tough choice to close it. She’s in the midst of a divorce and had to find a new place to live for her and her 8-year-old son. And then — worst of all — her father died.
Then an opportunity came along to open a restaurant in the old Strawberry Street Vineyard spot at 407 Strawberry St.
“My friends told me, ‘This is what you do,’” she says. “This opportunity isn’t going to come around again.”
She decided rather than build a full-blown restaurant, she’d do something smaller — a takeout and delivery place with grab-and-go market items available too. The plan is to open in mid-July.
The focus will be on Asian food — not fusion, but dishes from Thailand, Japan, China and India. You’ll be able to pick up three different kinds of kimchi — all nonseafood based. Most kimchi has anchovy paste, dried shrimp or other kinds of seafood in it.
Plus, there will be a little corner of Italian pasta and sauces provided by Bombolini Pasta. “We’re working with them to create ramen noodles for us,” she says. In the shop, however, she’ll make her own rice noodles and all of the tamari-based sauces. “I want everything fresh,” Best says. “I work with a lot of vegetables, herbs, aromatics. … There will be a lot of vegetable options most Asian places don’t have.
She’s even planning a sweet and sour dipping sauce made with strawberries and a chicken dish with a spicy strawberry and tamari glaze to reflect the location on Strawberry Street.
When I walked in to talk to her, the shop still was clearly under construction, but just a couple of hurdles stand in her way: The fire suppression and hood system haven’t arrived yet and the gas — capped off by a previous owner — needs the city’s help to get it up and running.
Best is working on a mural of a Thai water goddess on the right wall of the shop. The colors are striking and vivid — and the painting is enormous. “This is a dark time in my life, but I didn’t want any of that to be reflected in the space,” she says. “I wanted light, lively, colorful, happiness.”
Best admits she’s not an artist and has never done a mural. “I certainly bit off more than I can chew.”
But she’s not the type of person to avoid challenges — personal or professional. “Every day that I come to work on [the mural], I’m proud of myself and it’s really helped me with the grieving process,” she says. “It feels good — this is real and it’s happening.”
Correction: Originally this story didn't include the address on Strawberry St. It has been added.