‘I love Arlington Heights’: Owner to close Thai restaurant Friday after 30 years in business

After three decades in Arlington Heights, Bangkok Cafe will serve its last meal Friday night.

Owner Kim Cho attributed her decision to close the restaurant at 17 N. Vail Ave. in the village’s downtown to the aftereffects of the pandemic and family health issues.

“I just want to let my loyal customers know what is going on in my business and my life and my family,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone yet. I just made the decision (Monday).”

The 75-year-old Itasca resident and native of Thailand has been working in the food and beverage business since she was hired as a room service order taker for Hyatt hotels in 1974. She and her five sisters who immigrated here all worked for Hyatt at some point, gaining experience in the hospitality industry before pitching in at the family restaurant, which opened in 1994 at International Plaza at Golf and Arlington Heights roads.

Amid a proposed SuperTarget that was never built there and with the village’s assistance, Bangkok Cafe moved in 2004 to its current downtown Arlington Heights location, where it gained a steady and loyal following.

Cho recalled the crowded streets of the annual Mane Event and Taste of Arlington Heights street festivals, when the restaurant would serve as many as 3,000 egg rolls over the course of the weekend.

“My sisters kept rolling egg rolls. We sold a lot. We make everything fresh from the kitchen,” she said.

  Kim Cho, second from left, manages her family’s Thai restaurant business with her sisters Apirata, from left, Atchara and Kesirin. Bangkok Cafe, which opened in 1994, is closing after dinner service this Friday night. Joe Lewnard/

But Cho said the business never fully recovered from the pandemic. The restaurant used to be open for lunch, but the downtown foot traffic hasn’t returned to justify opening earlier in the day, she said.

Things aren’t much better in the evenings, on weekends, or during the annual Arlington Alfresco outdoor dining season, she said.

Though the restaurant had to temporarily close its indoor dining in 2020, what has lasted is the popularity of takeout orders.

“We still have a lot of carryout,” Cho said. “Right now people don’t want to sit down.”

The 75-seat restaurant and adjoining 30-seat private room is “too big,” she said.

And the restaurant staff today is down to four: Cho and three of her sisters. One of their sisters who was head chef died during the pandemic, and another is away from the business with health issues.

This photo, which hangs on the wall at Bangkok Cafe in downtown Arlington Heights, shows the six sisters who opened the restaurant. It is closing Friday after 30 years in business. Courtesy of Bangkok Cafe

Cho is not ready to call it a retirement, holding out the possibility of finding a smaller storefront space of maybe 750 square feet for to-go orders.

“Food and beverage is in our blood,” Cho said. “People in Arlington Heights know us. Most of them I take care of since they were in kindergarten to middle school and college. … I love Arlington Heights. I love Arlington Heights. Our hearts go to Arlington Heights. All of my sisters.”

Cho’s lease formally ends Sunday. A microbrewery is proposed in the Thai restaurant’s place, and is currently under review at village hall.

  Atchara Sripraiphan cooks at Bangkok Cafe in downtown Arlington Heights, which is closing Friday after 30 years in business at two locations. Joe Lewnard/
  Bangkok Cafe, at 17 N. Vail Ave. in downtown Arlington Heights, will serve its last meal Friday night. Joe Lewnard/
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