Saigon Sisters Restaurant Group Opens Bang Chop Thai Kitchen
in Chicago's West Loop
Bang Chop Thai Kitchen, a fast-casual Thai eatery in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, will open in early December at 605 W. Lake Street (312-285-2800). Bang Chop is the newest venture from the restaurant group that brought you the popular Saigon Sisters locations in Chicago. The restaurant group now has three Saigon Sisters locations and is expanding its growing Asian culinary footprint in Chicago with the new Bang Chop Thai Kitchen restaurant. Saigon Sisters has received numerous industry awards, including being named one of Chicago Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in 2011.
“We saw a void for Thai cuisine in the West Loop area, so when a space near Saigon Sisters opened up, we jumped on this opportunity. We are bringing to Bang Chop the same creativity, quality and attention to detail-as well as fast and friendly service-that has helped make Saigon Sisters a successful and popular brand with a very loyal following. Bang Chop represents a natural evolution of our company,” stated Mary Aregoni, President and CEO.
The contemporary room is intimate but appears spacious with its high ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling windows and bamboo wood walls. The colors are rich and warm, with a whimsical motif and chalkboard-style menu boards at the counter. Original Vietnamese artwork adorns the walls. Countertop seating offers a direct view of the open kitchen and there also is table seating.
Shining the Spotlight on Saigon Sisters’ new Executive Chef, Kevin Marquardt
Saigon Sisters, the popular Vietnamese restaurants with three locations in Chicago, has appointed Kevin Marquardt as the new Executive Chef. He is responsible for overseeing the day to day culinary operations of all three Saigon Sisters lunch and dinner locations as well as the Bang Chop Thai Kitchen location.
“My mission is to expand my knowledge of Southeast Asian Cuisine and help the company grow through an evolving menu. I fell in love with their food right away and see a ton of excellent growth potential for all of their concepts,” said Marquardt, who has already added some inspired items to the menu since joining the team in September. New items he has introduced to Saigon Sisters’ menu include Caramel Sriracha Wings, sweet and spicy chicken wings with a fresh papaya slaw, and Shrimp Dumplings with ginger-lime sauce and sprinkled with house made fried shallots. At Bang Chop, Marquardt’s new dishes include a spicy Red Thai Curry and for dessert, Sesame Tempura Bananas with a honey-soy chocolate dunking sauce.
Marquardt’s genuine interest in Southeast Asian cuisine and his respect for its ingredients and techniques are what drew the attention of Mary Nguyen Aregoni, owner and founder of Saigon Sisters and Bang Chop Thai Kitchen. “Kevin has a great palate and understands the flavor profiles of our cuisine very well,” said Aregoni. “In addition, he has strong business knowledge on how to run multiple restaurants and brands and that makes him a great fit for our growing company. We look forward to collaborate on new menu items with Kevin and continue to put out delicious Vietnamese and Thai food.”
Marquardt is a lifelong chef who has been working in restaurants since the age of sixteen. His first restaurant experience was a job scrubbing potatoes at a Texas Roadhouse and despite the far from glamourous work, he fell in love with the food industry.
Marquardt has gained a rigorous culinary education. He earned his Culinary degree from Kendall College and studied abroad at Suan Dusit Bangkok, then earned a B.A. in Business Management/Entrepreneurship from Illinois State University.
He has built an impressive culinary resume. His first chef driven restaurant position was working in the kitchen of the highly respected Ryan McCaskey at Courtright’s Restaurant. “Ryan taught me what the culture of a real kitchen should be and the standards for working professionally,” said Marquardt.
From there, he moved on to hold many line cook positions including Tru and Sepia and spent a few months abroad staging at Restaurant Noma. Marquardt then worked as a Sous Chef under Ken Myszka for three years at Epiphany Farms Enterprises. “Ken quickly became one of my biggest mentors; I learned the importance of hard work while being a chef and a farmer,” Marquardt said. “I started with the company when they were just a small farm doing dinner parties and was inspired by how hard Myszka worked to grow his business.”
His last stops before joining the team at Saigon Sisters were BellyQ and Urban Belly Restaurants, where he worked as Chef de Cuisine for Bill Kim for three years. He credits Kim for “teaching me the importance of systems and management. Besides learning his food and flavors, he taught me the importance of keeping your team motivated and consistent. Cooking and creating was the expected, and a Chef must be so much more because you’re going to deal with anything in a kitchen, ranging from psychology, accounting, laws, business relationships, and so on.”
He has advice for aspiring chefs: “Forget everything you’ve ever seen on TV. Come with a passion and dedication to the craftsmanship it entails. Understand that it comes down a bumpy road full of long hours and late nights. If you are truly committed and can endure all of this, then the rewards and possibilities are endless.”
Bang Chop’s menu will showcase authentic, high-quality renditions of dishes that are popular favorites plus rotating specials. It will be a small and focused menu with prices ranging from $3-$15 and it’s BYOB.
Wok-fried and noodle dishes include Holy Thai Basil Chicken with Jasmine Rice; Bang Chop Fried Rice; Krabi Pad Thai; and Smokin’ Pad See Ew. Salad choices are Scent of Green Papaya Salad; Waterfall Beef Salad; and Chicken Laarb Salad. Soup and curry choices include Tom Yum (clear broth); Tom Kha (coconut broth); and Green Curry with jasmine rice. Snacks include Bang Chop Fried Chicken Wings and Mekong Fish Cakes. The special dessert is Coconut Sticky Rice with Seasonal Fruit. Signature drinks are Thai Iced Tea and Bang Chop Tonic in rotating flavors.
Saigon Sisters successfully chase American dream with their
expanding Asian restaurant group
The forthcoming opening of Bang Chop Thai Kitchen at 605 W. Lake in Chicago’s West Loop (312-285-2800) is a welcome milestone for Vietnamese-American sisters Mary Nguyen Aregoni and Theresa Nguyen, who started with a dream in 2009 and have now made their presence convincingly felt among Chicago’s restaurant-goers with three Saigon Sisters locations. Bang Chop represents their fourth restaurant and their first foray into Thai cuisine.
The sisters are truly living the American dream. They are Vietnamese but were raised in Laos and Thailand as children and came to the United States with their family as refugees at a young age. As adults, they have brought their strong family food tradition to their restaurants. They were greatly inspired by their mother and grandmother who, in Laos, grew their open-market food grocery into a large food market operation similar to the Chicago French Market, becoming the main supplier to the nearby embassies. “We were immersed in a food environment with roots that went beyond Vietnam into neighboring Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We also had a heavy French influence in our education and culture growing up,” said Aregoni. “Our mother, Mama Suu, has been a great inspiration.”
“When we opened the first Saigon Sisters-a kiosk in the Chicago French Market-our goal was to bring the delicious street foods we grew up with to Chicago, using traditional ingredients and yet appealing to modern American tastes,” said Aregoni. “Fortunately, it took off right away and five years later, it’s still one of the most popular spots at the French Market.”
The next year, in 2010, the sisters found a storefront location a few blocks away at 567 W. Lake Street and their vision of a seated fast-casual restaurant took shape. They created a contemporary space that evoked a modern Asian-American sensibility and offered welcoming and attentive service.
The restaurant featured a casual lunch menu and a more elaborate menu in the evening. The lunch offering included a generous sampling of Pho, the traditional Vietnamese broth with noodles; Bao, the streamed buns with enchanting savory fillings; and Banh Mi, the famed Vietnamese sandwiches served on French baguettes. The dinner menu presented a more adventurous and complex Vietnamese food adventure, complete with beer and wine service, and Saigon Sisters became known as an evening destination restaurant when they were named one of the best new restaurants in 2011 by Chicago Magazine.
Having built a reputation for consistent quality and freshness, the sisters were approached in 2013 by Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital to open a location in their retail space within the hospital. It is a heavily trafficked lunchtime destination that brings in business people, medical personnel and visitors to the hospital. Northwestern was seeking local independent restaurateurs who could bring moderately priced but high-quality, healthful food to the location. The sisters successfully replicated their operations and same menu as their Lake street location, and this new location has been extremely popular since the beginning.
“Happily, we’ve been very successful with our style of handcrafted Asian cuisine,” said Aregoni, “and we’ve earned a positive brand reputation. It’s due to hard work and our firm commitment following our mission statement. We strive to be the best in serving Southeast Asian cuisine by delighting our customers with delicious food and great service day in and day out.”
Although, with the opening of the new Bang Chop Thai Kitchen, they will forge a somewhat different path, they are very comfortable taking this new direction. “In Vietnam, next to Vietnamese food, Thai cuisine is our go-to food and we know it very well. Bang Chop is a natural extension to our Saigon Sisters brand.”
Saigon Sisters, the company, remains as much a family adventure as it is an enterprise, and everyone has a role to fill. Mary serves as the CEO and chief visionary for the company. Her husband, Dan Aregoni, focuses on expansion opportunities, searching for new potential locations and investors. Mary’s sister, Theresa Nguyen, assists with menu development and strategic planning, following trends in the market. She also assists with quality control. The sisters’ mother, Mama Suu, always their inspiration, continues to be active in the cooking area. She checks food quality and teaches the chefs how to create new dishes using authentic techniques and ingredients.
Having met all of their goals thus far, the company will continue to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge, building their presence in downtown Chicago and expanding into other locales. “Saigon Sisters and Bang Chop are concepts that can readily grow, as we believe our offering is very well matched to the public’s growing interest in quality Asian fare. We are confident in our future and we will keep our eyes on the prize as we go forward,” said Mary Aregoni. “It’s very fulfilling to be making so many people happy and we feel it is our responsibility never to let them down in whatever ventures we become involved.”
While continued growth and expansion is their vision, the company is taking nothing for granted. “We accept the challenge of keeping the quality of the food and the team intact as we continue to grow and expand,” said Dan Aregoni. “We continuously check the quality of food and the ingredients. We don’t, and won’t, let the business run on auto-pilot we are always hands-on with respect to our operations and quality control.”