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Bottom Line: Tuk Tuk Thai turns to takeout times two as Dunkin’ develops drive-thru

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 10/17/2020 9:34:50 PM
Modified: 10/17/2020 9:34:46 PM

Call it Tuk Tuk Thai Two. Or maybe Tuk Tuk Thai South?

I call it a good sign — and an indicator of the industry’s future — for the struggling restaurant category, whatever it will eventually be called.

The popular 5-year-old Hanover restaurant, Tuk Tuk Thai Cuisine, located down a flight of stairs and squeezed between Dirt Cowboy Cafe and Dartmouth senior society Casque and Gauntlet in Old Nugget Alley, is opening a second location in West Lebanon.

Tuk Tuk — pronounced “tuke-tuke” — owners Pannipa Pace and her husband, Ken Pace, have bought the former Dunkin’ location on Main Street and in the coming months plan to open a second restaurant that the Paces foresee as serving the growing demand for takeout.

“The day Dunkin’ Donuts closed I called up (owner Chiplin Enterprises) and asked, ‘What’s the story with that building? Can we buy it?’ ” Ken Pace said. “The answer was initially ‘no,’ Dunkin’ Donuts still has 13 weeks left on the lease. Then we got a phone call two weeks later saying, ‘Would you like to meet?’ ”

In early October the Paces bought the circa-1980 1,600-square-foot building near the intersection with Route 12A in West Lebanon for $450,000, according to city real estate records.

The Paces opened Tuk Tuk in Hanover in 2015, with Pannipa Pace using many of her mother’s own recipes for curry and other traditional Thai dishes. (Her mother, Pranom Nisang, had previously been a chef at Hanover’s Thai Orchid, which relocated to Lebanon.)

Pace said they are meeting with a restaurant designer now and foresee the second Tuk Tuk — the restaurant doesn’t have a name yet but “Tuk Tuk will be part of the signage” — to seat about 30 customers and have room for a “full bar” but they anticipate the majority of the business to be takeout for Lebanon, Plainfield and White River Junction areas.

“From the ground up everything’s going to be brand new,” Pace said. “We’re going to put a ton of money into it.”

Although they have yet to submit design plans for approval to the city, Pace said he’s hoping the city will allow them to set up a dining area on the back side of the restaurant.

He estimates that the second Tuk Tuk should be open for business in “three to four months,” depending on how long it takes to get necessary city approvals and seemingly always-booked contractors.

Delivery and takeout has always accounted for 60% to 65% of Tuk Tuk’s business — Dartmouth students a big driver of that — but since the coronavirus pandemic takeout and delivery now accounts for 70% or more of orders, according to Pace.

And although Paces said business has been “ticking up every week” since Dartmouth students (or half of them anyway) returned to campus, in-restaurant dining is still only “30% to 35% of where it used to be.”

As a restaurant that has always been geared to delivery and takeout, Tuk Tuk was in a better position than most going into the COVID-19 pandemic. But given how the virus has changed the public’s restaurant-going habits and with no end in sight, Pace knows where the diners will be.

“Takeout and delivery absolutely is going to be key,” he said.

Dunkin’ looks to resurfacein Lebanon

Speaking of the closed Dunkin’ on Main Street in West Lebanon, the owner of the franchise submitted plans last week to build a new drive-thru Dunkin’ — the doughnut and coffee empire dropped “Donuts” from its name in 2018 — in the parking lot of Miracle Mile Plaza in Lebanon.

Henniker, N.H.-based Sagris Enterprises, which abruptly closed its Dunkin’ location on Main Street in West Lebanon in June, is proposing to build a new Dunkin’ at the south side of the Miracle Mile Plaza near Route 4/Miracle Mile, according to the plans. Sagris also owns the Dunkin’ on Route 12A in West Lebanon in addition to other locations in New Hampshire.

Sagris owner Greg Sagris said via email that he is “really excited about what this site could mean” and that the drive-thru location — there will be a walk-in service counter as well — at Miracle Mile will “both provide easier access and be a great benefit to our guests, especially in these current times.”

Sagris has been looking for a way to add a another Dunkin’ to its Upper Valley portfolio since it lost the counter inside the Circle K/Irving gas station in Hanover several years ago. Last year it submitted a site plan to the town of Hanover to install a new Dunkin’ in the Nugget Arcade building but then pulled the application without explanation right before the Planning Board meeting scheduled in January to review it.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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