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Love Led San Clemente Couple to Start Dream Restaurant

The offerings are authentic, grounded in the owners' love for food ... and each other.

It’s not often a business story starts with a love story. But this one does.

San Clemente resident Rich Montez was on a business trip in Australia about eight years ago when he met the woman who would become the love of his life.

Only problem was, she lived in Bangkok.

Three years of doing the whole geographically-inconvenient deal, and he proposed.

“She’s the wind beneath my wings. I love her so much,” Montez said of wife Priggly.

Priggly Montez had owned a restaurant in a Bangkok food court that specialized in Thai sukiyaki. Married now for five years, the idea of opening a restaurant here gnawed at her, but her businessman-husband tried to dissuade her.

But the more the couple entertained for friends, the more the pressure was on. Priggly’s that good of a cook, her proud husband said.

So a year ago, the Montezes started looking for a location. They combed through San Clemente, then heard that Barth’s Continental Cuisine off Ortega Highway just east of Rancho Viejo Road was looking to close.

It was perfect, even a little bigger than they had imagined, Rich Montez said. It already had a complete kitchen, and it is a great location, fronting a busy street.

Thai Noodle Company was born.

The building, however, it’s a little jinxed.

Montez is aware of the history: Barth’s lasted less than a year; Thai Dara less than a year before that. Before Thai Dara, there was a fish restaurant which had at least two owners.

Sure, “parking’s a nightmare,” Rich Montez said. But after shopping around for space, “parking’s a nightmare everywhere.”

Fortunately, the owners of allows people to valet park for free once the nearby car wash closes for the day, and they’ve extended that offer for patrons of Thai Noodle Company.

Response has been amazing so far, Montez said.

“Our first day [May 21], we had a guy come for lunch and he came back for dinner. We already have regulars. We have one guy, he’s been here eight times already,” he said.

The restaurant is in the “fast casual” niche, but features authentic recipes and allows diners to control the heat (on a scale of 1-5).

Montez designed it more as a take-out kind of place and hopes to add delivery.

The day before they opened, the Montezes invited monks from a monastery in the City of Industry for a 1 ½-hour prayer ceremony and blessing over the business. They know Priggly because she has cooked for them – monks only eat once a day, so perhaps they appreciate food more than some – at religious festivals.

They put a flour mixture dot above the door for each blessing said.

Priggly recently took a break from preparing brocolli, Thai food is all about the food prep, to look over her brightly colored restaurant that seats 31 and features computerized, high-tech menu boards that can be changed at any time.

“It’s my dream. I love to cook food. When they eat my food and are happy, then I’m happy,” she said. 

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