The Somboonsongs’ culinary ambitions are paying off.
Photos by Steve Legato
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Still, the Somboonsongs are savvy enough to realize that too much change isn’t what Main Liners want from their local eateries. So when they hired former Iron Chef competitor Takao Iinuma to shake things up at Teikoku, they took a measured approach to tweaking the menu. “Chef Iinuma was sly,” says Sutida. “He observed what customers were and weren’t ordering, and then slowly started adding new things to the menu while taking some things away.”
Iinuma soon began transforming all the Win Signature Restaurants. Last fall, Mikado and Thai Pepper in Ardmore received an interior overhaul and the menus were merged, giving customers the best of both worlds, not to mention a taste of what was being served at Azie and Teikoku. All in all, it signified a positive transformation from both the patrons’ and owners’ perspectives.
When it came to prices, the Somboonsongs had largely escaped criticism. That changed when they opened Azie in Media, undoubtedly the most urban and sleek restaurant on State Street—and likely the most expensive to open. Dinner entrées there range from $18-$30, and appetizers (other than sushi/sashimi) $5-$20.
At Azie’s Villanova cousin, entrées run as high as $38. Apps (other than sushi/sashimi) are $14-$26. It’s not clear yet if the more exclusive zip code will make a difference in price perception, but both Somboonsongs do believe they’re meeting customers’ expectations and offering fair price points based on expenses.
“Our landlord commented on the concept and the prices; he thought they were affordable, so we’ll see,” says Win. “Let’s face it—ingredients aren’t the cheapest right now.”
Nor is the Somboonsongs’ overhead, which includes mortgages on Teikoku and Azie, rent for the other four properties, and wages for 200-plus employees. “When payday comes around, it’s like ‘Wow!’” says Win.
During the first two years, the company lost money at Teikoku, but Mikado “supported that,” says Win. Now, maybe it’s Teikoku supporting Mikado. “Like everything, it’s a balancing act,” he adds. “Other locations need to support new operations for a couple of years.”
Win’s business model leaves no room for any investors other than family members. This puts the duo on surer footing than if they had to answer to investors like the ones they met while searching out a second location for Azie. (Though they were approached by the Starr team, the Somboonsongs stuck to their game plan.)
Along with the Starr comparison comes the inevitable question of how to retain individuality among seven restaurants that are all overseen by the same executive chef. “There is a good dialogue between chef Iinuma and the chefs de cuisine,” says Sutida. “He doesn’t act autonomously, and actually encourages them to be more creative and bring their own flair to the restaurant.”
Truth be told, neither Somboonsong worries much about overlapping dishes. “If it sells, why not?” both say.
“You move with the cheese,” says Win, in reference to Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, the no-nonsense book by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard. “We have our main identity, but we are not stationary.”
THE WIN DYNASTY
Azie: 217-219 W. State St., Media; (610) 566-4750, azie-restaurant.com
Azie on Main: 789 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova; (610) 527-5700, azieonmain.com
Flavor: 372 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne; (610) 688-5853, flavorwayne.com
Mikado: 66 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore; (610) 645-5592, mikadothaipepper.com
Parker’s Prime: 4755 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square; (610) 353-5353, parkersprime.com
Teikoku: 5492 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square; (610) 644-8270, teikokurestaurant.com
Thai Pepper: 64 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore; (610) 642-5951, mikadothaipepper.com