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Eat & Drink

The Mystery of The Friendly Thai

Posted by Rick McGinnis / December 17, 2009

Friendly Thai Queen WestThere are certain businesses whose appearance is considered an omen of good fortune for an upcoming neighbourhood -- call it the "Starbucks factor." In addition to the loved-and-loathed coffee franchise, there are other retail trademarks that make realtors happy: a Pusateri's is always an ominous sign of rising home prices, as is a Chapters/Indigo, and any kind of Mac-centric computer shop, though an actual Apple Store is almost more than mere mortals can hope for; it's like the mothership has touched down on your local main street.

On a humbler level, the arrival of a Friendly Thai is always welcome. While hardly considered the top of the Thai dining pyramid, its clean signage and modernist décor speaks to the aspirant, and neighbourhoods like the Junction, Roncesvalles and Leslieville are all currently graced with a franchise. But, as anyone who's homebound with a hankering for Friendly Thai will discover, the links between locations are intangible, and phoning the Yonge Street store when you want Pad Thai in the Junction will get you a polite apology and a request to try another number.

"I honestly don't understand it myself -- it seems very strange," says the nice young woman on the phone at the Yonge street Friendly Thai when I ask to talk to the manager. She says they get calls from people making this mistake all the time, and can't say for sure if there's any connection between the sundry Friendly Thais around the city.

There have been, at different times in the last six years, up to seven or eight Friendly Thais in operation. The four currently answering their phones are being joined by a fifth on Queen West (shown above) -- a location that's moved progressively further west every few years, starting at Portland before briefly taking over a vacated Amato's a block away two years ago, and now resurfacing near Euclid, with a storefront that doesn't quite match the look of the other locations. A Friendly Thai on Eglinton West ended up owning the friendlythai.ca website, which advertises something called Thai Grill, and two phone numbers that no one answers.

Thai restaurants have a history of restlessness in this city, it seems -- Wandee Young's Young Thailand has left a trail of its peregrinations all over Google, and currently rests at just three active locations at the moment, since its St. Clair West eatery became a casualty of that street's retail-blighting streetcar overhaul. There are also two Sukhothais in the GTA -- one on Parliament and one in Mississauga, with separate websites and nothing, apparently, in common.

Friendly Thai on RoncesvallesThe owner of the Roncesvalles Friendly Thai (above), Arul Subarmaniam, tells me that his store has nothing to do with the other locations, which seems to be true -- its website (myfriendlythai.com) has no links to the stores on Dundas West, Yonge or Queen East. The owner of the Yonge Street store doesn't return my many messages, and in any case his store does business online as thefriendlythai.com. It's a mystery that makes me think of all the pizzerias in New York City doing business as Ray's -- "Famous" or "Original" or some variation thereof, with at least 46 trading under the name as of this year.

Friendly Thai in the JunctionThe owner of the Junction restaurant (above) also doesn't return my calls, but I'm told by a young man at the Leslieville location that his uncle owns the name. He gives me the phone number of a man named Chan Sena, who appears on Google only once, in connection with the defunct Eglinton location. He's curt with me, and admits to owning the name of at least four of the Friendly Thais, and adds that he had the owner of the Eglinton store change it because "he wasn't following my instructions." Before I can get him to clarify his connection to the Queen West eateries, he says that "I can't talk to you about these personal things over the phone -- it's a family business matter," and hangs up, the mystery no clearer than it was when the day started.

Discussion

21 Comments

Jon Spencer / December 17, 2009 at 10:02 am
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The formerly excellent FT on Queen West, when it was in the block East of Ryerson St, then moved West of Ryerson St., near the Shoppers (the former Amato location referred to above) and my one dining experience there was enough to ensure I never returned -- it had become some sort of cafeteria with serve-yourself warming trays, and whether you did that or order off the menu (my dining companions and I tried both alternatives), it was a ghastly shock. Let us hope the one opening on Queen near Euclid doesn't suffer from the same blighted management as the "former Amato" one.
snout / December 17, 2009 at 01:02 pm
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You seem to be on some weird "stores closed by roadwork" bent lately and as a Roncy person I think you went trolling for a story that was not there and again here you blame St. Clair roadwork (which I agree has taken far too long but is actually leading to new stores) for closing Wandee Young's place. Those that know her (and love her) know there was more to the story than that and that St. Clair really had little to do with it.
jen / December 17, 2009 at 01:19 pm
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Ah, the mystery of the Friendly Thai! I was scratching my head about it too...I used to order from the one on Queen and at some point, the food started coming from Thai Grill on College after I called the number on the Friendly Thai pamphlet. So weird. I liked the Friendly Thai's food and now it's hit and miss because each one is different.
Kwil / December 17, 2009 at 02:47 pm
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There was a Friendly Thai on Eglinton, just west of Bathurst, as well. It was horrible. The pad thai was a thick mess of 'yuck'. Currently, the windows there are papered with a sign saying it was taken over by new management...
rick mcginnis replying to a comment from Kwil / December 17, 2009 at 03:02 pm
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Kwil - I think I mentioned that:

"A Friendly Thai on Eglinton West ended up owning the friendlythai.ca website, which advertises something called Thai Grill, and two phone numbers that no one answers."
dano / December 17, 2009 at 06:47 pm
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Looks like it the eglinton f-t has now re-born as a renovated The Thai Grill
at least the OPEN light is on and it look ready to go, but no customers yet
WN / December 17, 2009 at 11:07 pm
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I don't think it's such a mystery. It's a franchise, but the franchisor (probably this Chan Sena fellow) isn't great at enforcing standards and consistency and is basically just licensing out the name. The individual franchises have nothing to do with each other; there's no central order system, so the franchisees have to get their own phone number (and website) and if a restaurant leaves the franchise, the owners of the restaurant are free to reinvent it (e.g. Thai Grill, formerly Friendly Thai on Eglinton W).

We're so used to strong franchisors enforcing consistent appearances that many people don't realize that many chains are mostly franchises, e.g CdnTire, Tim Horton's, Pizza Pizza (a infamous one if people recall the legal stuff from a few years ago). But sometimes franchisee's differences pop up. Try returning a large value item back to a different CdnTire from the one you bought it from and they usually won't accept it.
Jerry / December 17, 2009 at 11:15 pm
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"a Pusateri's is always an ominous sign of rising home prices, as is a Chapters/Indigo"

Umm.. I am pretty sure Pusateri's only has two locations in Toronto. How is it "always an ominous sign of rising home prices"??? Did you make a typo and meant another store??
anonymous / December 17, 2009 at 11:18 pm
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The location in Leslieville is owned by Chan Sena, as well as the one on Yonge St. There's also Just Thai in the village at Church and Wellesley, and he is affiliated with it too. The Thai Grill, up near Don Mills and Steeles is owned by his nephew, but they are not on speaking terms... It's complicated, I know, but a lot of the Friendly Thais are family owned, along with Just Thai, and Thai Grill... Chan also owns Wiley's by Summerhill Station, The Dog's Bollocks at Queen and Bathurst, Toby's at College and Bathurst (which used to be at Yonge and Bloor), and Queen's Head Pub in Scarborough, at Victoria Park and Sheppard... gotta say most of the time the food is awesome, and I'm not paid to say that!
danielle replying to a comment from snout / December 18, 2009 at 08:59 am
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Can you elaborate on why she closed the St. Clair location? I live in the area and was really disappointed when it disappeared. There are so few tasty, non-Italian (containing the exact same menu offerings as every other mid-priced joint on the strip) take-out options in the area as it is.
Jonathan replying to a comment from Jerry / December 18, 2009 at 04:06 pm
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Always seemed a bit rich for me, too.

Bay and Bloor and Lawrence and Avenue.

Pretty sure that real estate values have been fairly high in these two spots for a while...
Randy / December 18, 2009 at 11:34 pm
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I recently at at a Friendly Thai at Queen East and Leslie. Bloody shame! The ingredients were fresh, but the sauce they used n every dish was sugary and gross, and it ruined the meal.
Kajan / December 21, 2009 at 01:17 pm
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End of the day, it’s the food that matters. Who cares how consistent the restaurants look. As long as they can maintain a healthy and safe environment, the restaurant should be open for business. Pervious form had said that the Friendly Thai Restaurant located on (Eglinton and Bathurst) needed renovation. I would say the new management took advice and implement it. Now the restaurant is running under The Thai Grill, with a new look and amazing food. Congrats
Tanya / December 21, 2009 at 02:52 pm
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We used to walk our dog down past the Eglinton Friendly Thai and noticed the store had gone through some major renovations when it reopened as Thai Grill. We stopped to pick up an order the other day and were quite impressed with the cozy interior of the store as well as the food. Franchise ownership matters little when clean affordable & yummy food is just around the corner. Thumbs up!
Cosmo / December 21, 2009 at 06:04 pm
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Pusateri's is opening january in Bayview Village Pholks
Thironi / January 9, 2010 at 11:20 pm
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I tried new friendly thai at 785 queen st west. The food is excellent. The staffs are friendly and their pad thai, basil chicken avacado peanut stirfry, mango chicken was yummy. also they do delivery. new queen st west phone # 416-367-8424.
Jesse Marshall / January 10, 2010 at 06:37 pm
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I just ate at the new Queen west location. Ironically enough I met the owner. Chan Sena, a large and soft Sir Lanken guy. He was a man of few words, but kind... The most important part is that the food was great and the service fine... What I am most excited about, is the fact that they deliver. Its getting really cold outside.. I grabed a take-out menu and there are so many freebie's when you order by phone. Such as a free padthai with a purchase of over 25 dollars. As long as the food arrives hot and taste like the satisfying meal I just had, who REALLY cares who owns it.. Congrats Mr. Chan.. If that is your real name....
A, Bradley / January 10, 2010 at 06:46 pm
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Just try the food, I have always had a wonderful experiance eating at my local in the Junction. You can see the menu and specials here: http://www.myfriendlythai.com/menu.html
Theresa / January 11, 2010 at 04:03 pm
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I went last week with my husband and I thought the food was sensational. The decor was simple and I liked what they had done with the space. I had the curried pad thai. It was fantastic!!! I had never tried pad Thai that was curried before, interesting. The waitress was quick and very nice. Its a great new edition to the strip. I will dinning there again!
Ex Employee / March 21, 2011 at 08:50 pm
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This article I find quite humorous as it depicts the owners and management of the Friendly Thai chain quite well. It is a "family" owned business with brothers, sons and nephews alike each having participated in ownership and management of the several locations. However, each location is quite different but the food seems to remain consistent. This was my first job here in Toronto and it was quite the experience having worked at several of the locations, each under their own management/ownership. Not the easiest people to work for by far but still seemed to have its fun times...perhaps that was because of my wonderful co-workers ;) All-in- all, the owners not being the most sociable of people, they are hard working and put out some decent take-out and delivery.
Sean / March 26, 2013 at 09:40 am
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Inspected on: March 20, 2013
Inspection finding: Yellow (Conditional Pass)
Number of infractions: 6 (Minor: 1, Significant: 3, Crucial: 2)
Crucial infractions include: Failure to ensure food is not contaminated/adulterated, failure to maintain hazardous foods at 4 C (40 F) or colder.

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