It’s been a long road that leads to Victoria’s Cafe, Kae Alexander’s new restaurant in the heart of South Hero and the Champlain Islands.
Upon her arrival to America in 2011, most notably Vermont, she was surprised to see a number of Thai restaurants throughout the area. Initially, she was excited to try the various restaurants and sample their Thai cuisine but she soon found that the American version of Thai food was much different, lacking many of the ingredients of authentic Thai food. For example, the “Americanized” version of Pad Thai uses boiled noodles, instead of fried and lacks some of the staple ingredients that are a tradition in the real, Thai version. Kae concluded that if Americans enjoy the variety of Thai food served in the USA, they will really love the traditional, authentic Thai cuisine.
Thai Catering of Shelburne, VT
What began in Shelburne, VT as a Thai catering business took off like a skyrocket eventually leading to a leased location in Milton, called the Vermont Thai Restaurant. “I started in Shelburne with a lot of wonderful people anxious to buy my Thai food,” Kae says “but we soon realized that we needed a restaurant as my little home business was simply not the right place. We had people sitting in the living room and around the kitchen anxious to pick up to-go orders as I cooked in front of them or from my make shift “wok kitchen” on the back deck!”
“We had a tarp setup above for rainy days. It was really crazy and during winter months everything moved inside and I was really cramped for space. That’s when I decided to close down and start looking for a restaurant.”
It was quite apparent that it would be tough to start a restaurant in Shelburne as there was nothing available to lease or for sale. “Reluctantly, ” Kae says, “we were forced to expand where to look to open a restaurant and Milton was the only place that had something available at the time.”
Unfortunately, that meant leaving behind Kae’s many devoted customers in Shelburne. “I loved Shelburne. The people were kind and welcoming. Even the people who worked at the town offices were very nice and I got to know them pretty well. Employees from Shelburne Museum and VT Teddy Bear were regulars and to this day, I couldn’t have asked for better customers.’
The Vermont Thai Restaurant
The restaurant that Kae and her husband rented along with a business partner, had been closed for a number of years and was a bit dated, with a local stigma attached to it. “People in Milton warned us about renting the building but we had few choices. It was a bit bigger than I would have preferred but we made it work for about a year and a half”. Although we had some really great customers in Milton, some of our Shelburne customers made the trip along with new customers from even further away. Weekends were busy with people from the Burlington area but we found the week days very slow with Milton being more of a “bedroom community”.
The couple and their business associate Kwang Bolm enjoyed running the restaurant despite some of the ups and downs. “The rent was quite high and we paid every expense. The building was drafty and costly to heat. We did the best we could for a long time but decided not to renew the lease, when it came up for renewal.”
The plan was to end the lease and purchase a building suitable to setup as a small cafe or find an existing place. After looking at a number of locations and buildings the 3 year search finally came to an end in 2017. “We stumbled upon a building, for sale by owner, in South Hero that would be perfect but the seller had a number of issues to contend with. Despite accepting our offer, the sale feel through as the seller didn’t have all the required paperwork.
In early 2018, after looking at another property, Kae and her husband saw that the South Hero property was once again for sale. This time, by a real estate agent. “I couldn’t believe I had a second chance at my dream cafe.” Kae never thought that would happen.”Soon, we made an offer but someone else offered more, so we lost out. However, the buyer backed out so we got a second chance and this time, we were lucky! In May 2018, we signed the papers for ownership of the building.”