Toronto’s Not So Regular Power Couple
Chef Nuit and Jeff Regular, are no regular couple. They’re the powerhouse duo who own all of The 6ix’s hottest Thai restaurants. Pre-COVID, you could find Chef Nuit running around the kitchen at PAI, Sabai Sabai, Kiin and more, in her signature traditional Thai head wraps and chef’s jacket. She’s the mastermind behind all the delicious dishes served in their restaurants. Her husband/business partner, Jeff Regular, runs all things service and hospitality. Creating not only unique and interesting space through their restaurant’s decor, but a memorable customer experience.
Together they’ve opened numerous restaurants, won a number of auspicious awards, and built a family of team members around them that they truly love. All while raising a family of their own. Chef Nuit and Jeff Regular truly are anything but regular.
It All Starts in Thailand…
The couple first met in Pai, Thailand where Nuit was living and working as a nurse. Jeff was passing through on a backpacking adventure and wanted to experience an elephant ride. Guess who was also there for an elephant ride? Nuit. The two got paired to ride the same elephant, spent the rest of the day together and well…the rest is history.
It was in Pai that Nuit and Jeff opened their first restaurant called, The Curry Shack. Nuit describes the dining experience in Thailand as being “no frills.” It’s about the food and less about the dining experience. The Curry Shack was able to stand out because not only was the food delicious, but Jeff was providing hospitality and service that was rare for patrons to find in the area, at that time.
“what i learned most from the curry shack, was nuit’s will and determination. i got a first-hand taste of it working alongside her. i learned that we worked really well together and we had fun doing it”jeff regular
Their first Canadian restaurant, Sukhothai, was opened in 2008 with the help of Jeff’s family. After moving on from there, Nuit and Jeff went on to open Khao San Road in 2011 (later exiting in 2012), then Sabai Sabai in 2012 and PAI on Duncan in 2014. Kiin, which opened in 2017, serves a menu of Royal-Thai inspired cuisine and the concept is focused on the elevated dining experience. Their newly opened, PAI Uptown location at Yonge & Eglinton uneventfully had its grand opening during the pandemic in November 2020–quickly becoming a uptown takeout hub for their beloved PAI menu.
From the very beginning, The Regulars knew it was important for them to define their roles within the restaurant. Not only to divide the tasks efficiently, but to help bring structure to their operations and their team members. Nuit manages all back of house operations, and Jeff is all things front of house. Major operations decisions, they make together as a team.
“it’s also important [TO NOTE] that we agreed to always respect each other’s opinions and really listen… it’s a huge part of how we’re able to make our business partnership work so well–by being open and understanding”Chef nuit regular
Since moving to Canada, the couple have been involved in over eight restaurants, and ghost kitchen operations, like Kitchen Hub, in the west end. They hold a Thai SELECT Premium designation for PAI, Kiin, and Sabai Sabai. Awarded by the Royal Thai Government to recognize and guarantee restaurants that represent the outstanding culinary image and unique character of Thai food. Only four restaurants in Ontario have been awarded this distinction, and they hold three of them.
The Regulars Adapt
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the Regulars closed their restaurants and established a game plan. They knew they had to pivot and diversify their offerings, while supporting their staff as much as the could. When they reopened, they were intent on doing their part to keep their team and guest healthy and safe.
The Regulars got creative to supplement their businesses while indoor and outdoor dining is restricted. The couple opened up a marketplace in PAI offering Thai pantry staples. Chef Nuit created meal kits and innovative cooking techniques to bring her famous Thai dishes to her guests home. They hosted virtual events to stay connected to their guests.
In the summer of 2020, they expanded their marketplace to include By Chef Nuit, their catering and events brand. Because By Chef Nuit is a pop-up concept, they had the ability to be super creative with the menu. They feature the comfort foods that everyone is craving with a Thai twist. Jeff’s favourite By Chef Nuit dish is the new Massaman Beef Sandwich. Ours…hands-down, the “Pad Gra Prow Burger.“
These marketplaces brought key ingredients in Thai cooking to Toronto. Fresh produce like holy basil, Makrut limes, Thai garlic and Thai eggplant. Paired perfectly the the launch of their cookbook Kiin, in October 2020.
Kiin, By Chef Nuit
Chef Nuit created her cookbook, Kiin, to celebrate and preserve the traditional recipes and culture of her native Thailand. The cookbook is a collection of her family’s traditional recipes along withe her own personal stories. Being a chef who cooks by memory and instinct, found it challenging to figure out the exact measurements for all her recipes. She also had to take into account ingredients that aren’t readily available in Ontario. Like her favourite shrimp paste from Thailand, which is less salty than it’s North American alternative.
Another motivation for creating her cookbook was to pass down her recipes to her kids. To her, that was more than just the ingredients. Her and Jeff really wanted to capture the beautiful Thai sun, landscapes and sceneries throughout the cookbook. Which is ultimately why they went back to Thailand to capture authentic images. Yet again the Regulars are bringing us not only amazing food, but a well rounded experience.
“it was important for me to bring readers into my world and show the places where i grew up so that they could truly understand my culture and my story of becoming a chef.”chef nuit regular
The Regulars Find Their Balance
While the pandemic came with many, many new challenges. That being said, the Regulars are thankful that through the experience of being forced to stay home, they were able to find a healthier balance in their life. Workaholics by nature, the couple have been working tirelessly for years building their empire and family at the same time. While it hasn’t always been an easy road, it has always been a loving one.
Outside of the restaurants, the Regulars are bonded through their love of basketball. Nuit used to play basketball in Thailand, and Jeff grew up loving the Raptors in Toronto. Their restaurants are decked out with signed and vintage NBA memorabilia. Pre-pandemic, Jeff would play pick-up games three times a week, and even had a half court installed in their home.
Chef Nuit describes herself as a naturally curious person. She is always looking to learn a new skill whether it be in the kitchen, the garden, or with an instrument. One dish in particular is her favourite to make at home. A tomato-based soup noodle dish with canned sardines and laser ginger, served on top of rice vermicelli. It combines all the traditional elements of her mother’s hometown, as well as where Nuit herself grew up.
The couple are also avid travellers, and can’t wait to get back on the road after restrictions lift. Their favourite travel memories have always been long weekend trips with their kids. They’d love to do a road trip across Canada, visiting iconic spots like Lake Louise and Banff along the way. Outside of Canada, Thailand is always on their list of places to visit.
The Future of the Regulars
In the next few years, Chef Nuit and Jeff Regular have a number of expansion projects in mind. They hope to add a rooftop patio at their PAI Uptown location, as well as expand the space in the flagship PAI Downtown. We can also expect to see more ghost kitchen concepts, classes, private events, and expansion of the By Chef Nuit catering brand using food trucks to reach an audience outside of the GTA.
The Regulars are also building their own factory in Thailand to expand the PAI Commissary. This factory will produce and export their own signature line of sauces for both wholesale and retail in Canada. Jeff also told us that they are looking into acquiring an organic tamarind farm to help make authentic Thai ingredients more readily available.
“we’d love to do culinary retreats to pai, thailand… guests would be able to learn to cook northern thai dishes in the traditional way, going to the markets, and having access to all the local ingredients in the region that nuit grew up cooking and eating.”jeff regular
At the end of the day, the key to their success is patience and respect. Through their years of mixing their business and personal lives, the Regulars have learned that some arguments aren’t personal, they are simply a difference of opinion. At the end of the day, they love and value each other, more than anything else.
Creative/Fashion Direction and Producer: STEVEN BRANCO; Photography: NICK MERZETTI; Fashion Assistant: SHANON SIDHU; Production Coordinator and Contributor: MERRILL FLYNN; Lighting Assistant: MOR ANUCOV; Grooming: DARREN JANSEN / L’Oreal Pro; Makeup: RESHMA SOOKDEO; Production Assistance and BTS Photography: PATRICK CONCEPCION and NICK LAURETANI; Location: PAI UPTOWN (with strict social distancing and screening measures in place) in Toronto. A special thank you to the GOTSTYLE, ALDO and Jane Gill PR teams for wardrobe assistance.