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Saturday May 28th

14 years later, Sakura says sayonara

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The location at 110 N. Columbia St. closed Monday after 14 years serving the community; it will be filled in October by Sawasdee Thai Restaurant.

Dan Tri Dong, who with his wife owns Sawasdee Thai Restaurant, said the couple had wanted to move to Chapel Hill for three years.

Last year, the restaurant made an offer on another Franklin Street location, but that fell through. They had been searching for a downtown location ever since.

“We love the small-town feel,” Tri Dong said. “We hope the town will welcome us.”

The family has owned restaurants in the Triangle area for 16 years, with two locations currently and two more opening within the year.

A representative from the couple’s biggest restaurant will set up the new Franklin Street venue’s menu, and Sawasdee will keep most of the chefs from Sakura on staff.

“We know everyone will miss the hibachi chicken, so we’ll be keeping the grill and making sure it stays the same,” he said.

Alex Armas, one of the chefs who will stay with Sawasdee, said he was very happy he was able to continue at the location after working there for nine years.

The Sawasdee team also invited Pat Thirakoun, former owner of Sakura Xpress, to work for them at the new restaurant.

“Whenever (Thirakoun) finds time or is comfortable, he can come work for us,” Tri Dong said. “We know he lives in Raleigh, so if he wanted to work at a different location, he could. We’d love to have him on the team.”

Thirakoun said the offer he received from Sawasdee was one he could not refuse, even after being in business for so long.

“We had been here for 14 years, and my wife and I are ready to change to a new career,” he said. “My dad is getting older, and I wanted to spend time with him and more time with my family.”

The restaurant closed fewer than 10 days after its location was sold.

Thirakoun said he and his wife were tired of commuting from Raleigh all the time, so when buyers made an offer on Friday, they quickly made the decision to step away from their business.

“We are kind of doing nothing for now,” he said. “We’ve been working so hard for so long.”

Shelby Miller, a junior economics major, said she was sad Sakura Xpress closed.

“My roommate and I would come over to Sakura multiple times a week to eat,” she said. “There was no other place you could get delicious $6 hibachi.”

Patrons like Miller will have to wait until October 1 to get their fix, because Tri Dong said the space will be renovated extensively before the new restaurant opens.

Tri Dong said he loves the location of the restaurant, but not the interior.

He said they will have to get all-new equipment and spend up to two months renovating the space to look more like their other locations.

“We love the idea of having restaurants,” Tri Dong said. “We want to share our cultures and cuisines with the people here, especially in the Chapel Hill community.”

@kelsaywhat

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