The family behind three already-popular Thai restaurants in the Charlottesville area has opened another, this one on Pantops.
The crowd of dozens that gathered at the grand opening last week said they hope the restaurant will not only be a successful business but a successful gathering spot for the fast-developing area just outside city limits.
“It is very important to have a hub for a large community like this,” Dick Ruffin, chair of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee, told The Daily Progress. “This is going to bring all the neighborhoods together.”
Maple Pine Breakfast & Thai Kitchen, just off Stony Point Road near Darden Towe Park and Riverside Village, held a soft launch in June but waited until last week for a ribbon-cutting grand opening, where guests were treated to a large buffet of Thai dishes.
It is the latest addition to Kitty Ashi’s collection of eateries in the area, which already includes Monsoon Siam off the Downtown Mall and Pineapple Thai Kitchen off Preston Avenue in Charlottesville and Coconut Thai Kitchen in Crozet. She also owns another Monsoon Siam in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I always came to Darden Towe Park, and I’d drive past it and think, ‘I love this location,’” Ashi told The Daily Progress.
Judging from the crowd at the grand opening, other people love the location too, Ashi said.
“We’re surprised that word is spreading so fast,” she said.
Ashi has no worries of oversaturating the Charlottesville market; she creates a special menu for each location.
Her Pantops venture will have a special focus on breakfast, not available at her other enterprises. That includes a Thai breakfast, with rice soup, egg dishes and spicy chicken, as well as traditional American breakfast options such as French toast and pancakes.
The French toast with fresh fruit is an early favorite of Albemarle County Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley, who represents the area on the county’s board of supervisors and attended the grand opening with fellow Supervisor Ann Mallek.
“The food is delicious. I’ve eaten here five times for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” LaPisto-Kirtley told The Daily Progress, specifically highlighting the floral arrangement atop the French toast. “The presentation is beautiful, similar to French cuisine.”
LaPisto-Kirtley attended not just because she enjoys the food, but because not many new restaurants have opened in the Pantops area recently. Several closed during the pandemic.
“But they’re coming back,” she said. “This one was important, because the Riverside community supported it and really wanted a restaurant here. And when we found out it was going to be a Thai restaurant, that did it. Everyone was supportive.”
Natalie Masri, president of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce, was also in attendance and echoed LaPisto-Kirtley’s sentiments.
“A couple years ago none of this was here,” Masri told The Daily Progress of the recent development in Pantops. “There are certainly lots of opportunities with folks moving to town to be opening businesses and certainly we all eat, so having more restaurants is a good thing.”
Two other restaurants previously occupied the same space, but both closed. Is that a concern for Ashi?
“Not really,” she said. “We’re really confident that all of our food is really comfy and easy to consume and healthy.”
LaPisto-Kirtley isn’t concerned either.
“Anyone in Pantops also knows that the other end of this building is Grit Coffee, which is doing very well,” she said. “It’s a beautiful location with plenty of parking.”
Ashi opened the restaurant for a soft launch in June and has been encouraged with the response so far. She started Maple Pine with one of her brothers and former employees at Monsoon Siam.
“I saw they have a really good dream to own something that would be fun for the neighborhood,” she said. “I lived in Pantops a few years ago, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. This area has no Thai food.’”
LaPisto-Kirtley, a Democrat who is running for reelection against more conservative independent candidate and used car dealer T.J. Fadeley, said the early success of Maple Pine is proof that business can boom in Albemarle County.
“This tells the world that the county of Albemarle is supporting small businesses. And for someone that doesn’t cook, having restaurant in the area is very important to me,” the supervisor said with a laugh.