Wok of Joy

The Wok of Joy is opening a restaurant at 223 South Pine Street in Telluride, and, yes, there will be pad Thai. (Courtesy photo)

The Wok of Joy, the popular Thai food cart that has been a must-have in the Mountain Village Core for the past three years, is moving to Telluride. 

Couple Joy Itthithepphana and Jason Smith will soon be opening their first brick-and-mortar restaurant in the area at 223 South Pine Street in the former Over the Moon space. 

“Joy and I have never actually worked in Telluride. We have always worked in the village. Our home is in the village. We’re just super psyched to come to Telluride and have this totally different community. That’s going to be exciting for us,” Smith said. 

Midway through the build out, the couple is aiming to open their doors in June, possibly by the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which starts June 11, though the exact date is to be determined. 

“Everything’s going pretty much to plan,” Smith added. 

The new venture was inevitable, he said, as the increase in demand couldn’t keep up with the food cart’s capacity. Sales soared each year, and keeping a well-stocked pantry became a challenge. It was a good problem to have, but the couple always wanted a more permanent spot. 

“We were doing the cart for three years, but by this winter we felt like we outgrew the cart. It’s too busy. We physically couldn’t store enough to keep going. We’d run out of food every day,” Smith explained. “We felt that we had outgrown the cart by now, and we really needed to move into something bigger and grow or the cart was going to stay status quo.”

The restaurant allows Itthithepphana to expand the menu, including a variety of curries and dipping sauces. There will be six tables indoors, and an additional three on the sidewalk outside. It’ll be counter service with lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then dinner from 5-9 p.m. 

“We don't have to get too crazy on thinking about it. It’s basically going to be the same concept as the food cart, but we’re going to have a full kitchen in there. We’ll have a charbroiler to barbecue things. We have deep fryers. We have a massive griddle and stovetop. We got all the toys we need to do stuff that was physically challenging on the cart outdoors. We’re gearing it as an indoor food cart experience,” Smith said. 

Patrons can expect prices to remain reasonable, including a $12 lunch option. The Wok of Joy is also partnering with its downstairs neighbor The Liberty in providing food service. 

Moving to the area eight years ago, the couple worked in the restaurant industry in their former homes of Northern Thailand and Luang Prabang, Laos. When they came stateside, they always wanted to offer up such cuisine, particularly Thai dishes that diners might not always find in the States.  

“Joy and I are both just total food nerds. We love food that you might not typically see on American Thai menus. The really oddball stuff that I don’t know if it’s too weird for Americans, but we have a hard time finding these dishes,” Smith said. “We thought if we ever do a restaurant, we’re not going to bow to the American taste buds. We’re going to force it on them.”

It’s safe to say taste buds have bowed to The Wok of Joy, as seemingly every review is nothing but praise for Itthithepphana’s food.

“The food is wonderful and you absolutely can't beat the price in Telluride. I recommend any curry Joy makes. I've tried several this summer and all have been incredible. Quality ingredients really make the difference. If you get pad Thai spice it up yourself with provided condiments,” Hannah U. of Lubbock, Texas, shared on yelp.com

Pad Thai is by far the most popular item, Smith explained. 

“It’s insane how much pad Thai we go through,” he said, adding the dish makes up 80 percent everyday sales.” 

He admitted that he wasn't sure if pad Thai would be so popular when the cart first started. 

“I was incredibly off base on that one,” Smith said. “Her pad Thai really is good because she takes the time to make the tamarind sauce from scratch from actual tamarind fruit. That’s the whole flavor profile of her pad Thai, and it really makes a difference. It just tastes so much fresher.”

That’s the philosophy behind all the dishes, as ingredients are locally sourced, and the plan is to change the menu with whatever may be available at the time.  

“Everything we’re going to put in this new space will be that same caliber of making it from scratch as much as possible,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep it super simple for the first year and see where it wants to evolve. Let it grow in its own direction.”