Opart Thai House, one of the city’s better Thai restaurants and a fixture in Lincoln Square for 34 years, closed on Tuesday at 4658 N. Western Avenue. The restaurant’s locations in West Town and South Loop are unaffected. Restaurant co-owner Mary Punmit blamed a mixture of reasons for the decision the close including the need to focus on the newer locations and the desire to encourage her 65-year-old mother, the restaurant’s co-founder, to slow down.
“It was almost like an intervention,” Punmit said of the shutter.
While the restaurant is named for Punmit’s father, mother Mookda Punmit is the restaurant’s quiet driving force. Family life is always hard to describe to outsiders, especially when it involves someone with such a strong immigrant work ethic like Punmit’s mother. It’s hard to convince her to reduce her workload and to delegate responsibilities.
“Our customers all know her, she is the magic,” Punmit said of her mother.
It’s no secret that some customers were swayed when the health department briefly shut down the restaurant after failed inspections last spring. Fans on Opart’s Facebook page jumped to the conclusion that the restaurant couldn’t recover after failed inspections. Punmit acknowledged that it affected business, but she claimed it did not factor into the decision to close. Though she has her issues with the inspection process, she didn’t want to dwell. Punmit addressed the issue on Facebook and also reiterated that she hopes that her family’s more than three decades in Lincoln Square isn’t stained by speculation.
While Lincoln Square grabs headlines as a German-American hub, over the last four decades the city’s Thai community has settled in on Western Avenue and opened several restaurants including Thai Oscar, Spoon Thai, Thai Room, Sticky Rice, and Rainbow Thai. Plans aren’t finalized, but another Thai restaurant could replace Opart. The parties aren’t ready to share details on what could happen, Punmit said. They’ll release more information when plans are more concrete.