Pramuan “Chim” Duncan spent many nights camping at Cooper’s Landing before deciding to open her food truck on-site in 2001. For almost 20 years from late March to early October, Chim’s Thai Kitchen has served food to the campground, marina and MKT Trail crowd 12 miles southwest of downtown. Duncan also opened several restaurants closer to Columbia since first setting up shop along the Missouri River, all selling food she first learned to cook growing up in Thailand. She had two locations that closed, one in south Columbia on Peachtree Drive and one on 10th Street in The District, but she has now turned her attention to two new ventures steps from each other downtown. In October 2018, she opened Big Mama Chim’s Noodle House on Alley A. In July 2019, Duncan brought Chim’s Thai Kitchen to Broadway in Thip Thai Cuisine’s former location. Two blocks away, Thip Thai Cuisine’s owners opened Thip’s Asian Bistro on Walnut Street at the end of March to offer more Thai food downtown. Duncan’s restaurants are run with help from her grandchildren, son and daughter Pantipa “Boo” Wadtananussorn, who has been with her from the very beginning as a co-owner at Cooper’s Landing. “(Duncan) wants everything to be perfect,” Wadtananussorn says. “She wants everything to be done the way she does it.” Although Duncan is technically retired now, she still works every day with to keep the restaurants running.
After laboring over a pot of broth, Duncan takes a break to discuss her busy work-life, passion for cooking and her favorite foods.
When did you get into cooking?
All my life, I’ve been cooking. At 15 years old, I started working. After that, I started a restaurant of my own in my hometown, Khon Kaen [in a northeastern province of Thailand]. I had rice bowls and all the usual dishes.
When did you move from Thailand to America?
I came here in 1984. My husband was from Jefferson City, and my mother-in-law was from Fulton.
This isn’t your first time expanding. What made you try again?
I started new again for family, not for me. I am the “Big Mama.” I take care of everything. My customers know me from Cooper’s Landing, and they wanted me to come back and open downtown. And Thip Thai’s out of business, which made it easier. And, I like Columbia. Customers are happy with me.
Why open two restaurants so close to each other?
Big Mama Chim’s Noodle House I do for noodles and soup. It is too small; there’s not enough seating for customers. There’s just four tables. Chim’s Thai Kitchen has a different menu, too. It has the menu that I had before from Chim’s Thai Kitchen at Cooper’s Landing.
You’re retired, but you still are pretty hands on. How much more work is there since expanding?
I want to make sure everybody does a good job and makes good food, so I work hard. More work for me? There’s more work for everybody. Work open to close, seven days a week, but I don’t get paid here. I try to help everybody, make sure everybody gets paid, my family anyway, and I care about customers.
What do you like to eat?
My food on the menu is not my favorite. I like to eat vegetables. I like to make my own food; not from the menu. I don’t like stir fry; I don’t know why. I don’t like sweet food like Chinese food. My food is not that sweet, but when I’m hungry, I eat everything. I’m not picky.