Song Peebua grins when he talks about the name of Mama Jee, the Thai restaurant he plans to open on Hillsborough Street next month.
“That’s my wife,” he says. “She’s really happy. She comes down here and sees the restaurant, and she loves it.”
Song and Jee met and dated in Thailand and immigrated to the United States in 1990, moving to New York before settling in North Carolina nearly two decades ago. During a visit, he realized the slower pace of life suited him better than his harried existence in New York.
During most of his time in North Carolina, Song has been a restaurateur. He initially opened Thai House in Smithfield before shortening his commute by relocating just off Wake Forest Road, where it’s been for the last decade. He’ll maintain that location, but the amount of N.C. State students who drive eight miles north to eat at the restaurant led him to consider his options on the collegiate strip, now in a heavy redevelopment phase.
“The children at N.C. State come into Thai House and say, ‘There’s really good food here, but why don’t we have anything closer like this to N.C. State?’” he explains. “They were asking for it.”
Mama Jee will expand on Thai House’s well-stocked menu of Thai favorites, largely with the addition of a sushi bar. Peebua says he will serve as the chef behind the sushi bar, which arches through the space’s generous dining room. The restaurant will also include a wide, full bar, backed by stone and tan woodwork. Together, the bars seat about forty, with the dining room itself holding almost eighty. The 3,600-square-foot restaurant occupies almost all of the ground floor of the “Friendly Apartments,” a five-floor development that’s part of a string of similar projects along Hillsborough Street. Those sixteen apartments opened in August 2016.
As Hillsborough Street’s facelift continues, locally owned restaurants like Mama Jee will become critical to the strip’s continued character. As Target and, presumably, more chains arrive next year, real estate prices are expected to continue their climb. The window of affordability is shrinking, and Peebua is happy to get in now.
“We found this spot closer to N.C. State, and that’s perfect,” he says. “There’s no need to drive over there.”
(Top rendering courtesy of Andrew Osterlund Architect)