After two decades in the U.S. Army, Steven Shutts set off on a new journey. He entered the restaurant business.
Shutts and his wife, Thippawan, started a food truck called Mobile Thai Kitchen in St. Robert, and in just five short years, it became a million-dollar business in Springfield.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” he says of the journey to establish Everyday Thai LLC. “I feel proud of my staff and my wife for getting this far.”
Thippawan Shutts moved to the United States from Thailand more than 10 years ago, bringing her talent and knowledge of the Thai culture to the table. Steven Shutts says he owes the success of the business to his wife, the lead chef, and her commitment to quality food. She taught him everything he knows about running a restaurant.
“My wife has a passion for making people happy when it comes to their food,” Shutts says. “It’s what fuels her.”
In 2015, Shutts and his wife opened the food truck near Fort Leonard Wood where he was stationed in the military. The location allowed for their restaurant to acquire a following for those who loved authentic Thai food, but made it difficult to find ingredients needed for dishes. As a result, the Shutts made frequent trips to Springfield to purchase Asian food supplies.
But logistical reasons weren’t the primary reason for continuing their business outside of a food truck.
“It was hot inside the food truck,” Shutts says. “That’s why we wanted to get out of it.”
In 2017, Shutts packed up and moved his business to 2926 S. Campbell Ave. in Imperial Plaza. At this location, his business thrived for two years with many of his regulars from the St. Robert area taking a trip to Springfield for dinner. The business finished 2019 with roughly $820,000 in revenue, he said, up from $300,000 in 2018, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
“There is not much of a plateau in any of our numbers as far as sales and customer service,” Shutts says.
While business was successful at the brick and mortar, Shutts says the location’s lack of visibility made him search for a new home. Therefore, down the block and on the south side of Battlefield, they bought a former Newk’s Eatery for $1.75 million, according to past SBJ reporting. The new spot nearly doubled the square footage too. But the move of his restaurant came at a time when the whole world was stopping due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The week of our opening … it was the week of the shutdown,” Shutts says.
Many of his workers, including front of house manager and bar manager Michael Patton joined Shutts and his wife for a candid meeting.
“We sat down and just tried to figure out what we were going to do,” Patton says. “We really had no idea. We were pretty hurt because we didn’t know if our livelihood was just going to go away.”
Patton says there was not a dry eye at the meeting.
“I couldn’t look them in the eye without breaking down,” Shutts says. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, what was going to work.”
During the meeting, the team determined the restaurant would offer take out services since the dining room had to remain closed due to the Springfield stay-at-home order. But Shutts says he found the restriction on indoor seating a form of a blessing.
“It allowed us to focus on the kitchen and to get used to the kitchen in a slow and methodic way – as opposed to just an overload of new people coming in the door,” Shutts says. “I think it would have been a disaster.”
Shutts was able to keep all two dozen staff members at the time on payroll with help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Servers were doing deliveries, running food out to cars and the phone was ringing nonstop for orders. Teamwork was an important asset to keeping things going, Shutts says.
“It brought us close together,” he says.
After the initial shock of the global pandemic, Shutts says within two weeks they were already doing more in sales than at the previous location.
“I felt humble. I felt ashamed a little bit because I was looking around and there were restaurants just not open. But ultimately, I had to take care of my people and my staff,” Shutts says.
Everyday Thai has been a rarity in the industry this year. According to the Missouri Restaurant Association, $775 million in sales from Missouri restaurants were lost in April due to the outbreak. From a report in October, officials say 53% of operators believe it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business within the next six months without government assistance.
“Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Congress provided eight weeks of payroll assistance plus some help with a few overhead costs,” says Bob Bonney, certified public accountant for the Missouri Restaurant Association via email. “That relief is insufficient for a pandemic now entering its ninth month.”
August was the best month this year with $174,000 in sales, Shutts says. Everyday Thai has had a steady climb since the reopening of the economy from the shutdown in May.
“Every month has just been a better month,” Shutts says.
This year, Shutts says the restaurant crossed the $1 million sales mark for the first time and is on pace to generate $2 million.
Consumers are vouching for the restaurant as Everyday Thai made Yelp’s 2019 Top 100 Places to Eat list.
And while the more than 2,700 people who have liked the Everyday Thai Facebook page would like to know what’s next for the restaurant, it remains to be seen.
“We do have some productions in the works,” Shutts says. “This is not the final chapter of Everyday Thai.”
Builders predict costs will remain elevated well into 2021.
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