GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Erb Thai has ridden the wave of popularity that Thai food has enjoyed in West Michigan. Embedded in the neighborhood centered around Wealthy Street and Diamond Avenue SE, Erb Thai caters to both a clientele that walks there and one that takes the trouble to drive there.
“We're catering to an up-and-coming area that supports local needs of Grand Rapids,” says owner Lisa Chang. “It will be 11 years next month.”
Uptown Village was not always bustling. “We felt kind of lonely at first, but eventually more and more neighbors have come and joined us,” Chang remembers. “You can definitely tell and see the huge changes from when we first started.”
Erb Thai has seen its changes, too. For five years, Chang’s brother ran another location on Lake Michigan Drive, but it closed when he started a family. Chang’s parents ran a location on Michigan Street NE, but then they retired and that place closed. So Chang is back solo at her original location.
As a restauranteur, Changs roots can be traced back to Southeast Asia. She and her siblings are all American-born and raised. It’s her parents who immigrated to the U.S. from their Hmong roots. “Laos, and Thailand, and, Cambodia, Vietnam, the cuisines are very similar in a sense,” she explains as she remembers how she grew to love Thai food. “I myself, particularly, grew up watching Thai dramas with my mom.”
She discovered the neighborhood while she studied culinary arts at Grand Rapids Community College, which is noted for its culinary school. She "fell in love with this area as a student myself and eventually saw this location and just decided to open up Erb Thai."
So. What’s popular?
“Our number one dish here is called a peanut curry noodle. It's basically a stir fry rice noodle dish with broccoli, string beans, carrots, and eggs and bean sprouts. And it's stir-fried with creamy curry peanut sauce. And so you get a mixture of sweet, salty, milky. And then if you like spice, it has a little bit of hint of spice in it, too. And you can even spice it up even more. So, a lot of people love that. That is a customer favorite.”
Dishes like that and pad thai have apparently been strong draws for Thai food lovers during the pandemic. “When we had the first start, the wave of the pandemic, it was rather scary,” Chang remembers. “It was shocking to all of us to wanting to step out of our homes ... Not only that you see kind of like a ghost town feel about everything, when you're going out with the restaurant alone, it was like that, too. But that didn't last; our customers are so great that even with a pandemic they were still willing to support us.”