Local food-centered concept Table Story returns with off-menu dinners and meaningful connections

Dinner and a show? How about dinner and a story? A multi-course meal is meeting meaningful conversation at a revived local dinner concept, Table Story. The events, held almost every month, aim to give chefs and restaurant owners a voice while connecting the community through food. 

Laura Siu-Nguyen dreamed up the dinner series after realizing that local mom-and-pop eateries needed some love and exposure. Table Story started in 2019 with dinners at places like Chow Yum (at the time Chow Yum Phat) and El Tio Taquería. Siu-Nguyen had organized another at Overpass Merchant before the pandemic thwarted her plans.

The concept went on hiatus for years, but returned Wednesday, May 29, at Chai Thai-Lao after much diner demand. 

Siu-Nguyen says her original goal remains: To showcase hidden culinary gems with off-menu dishes. 

“I want to make sure that we bring spotlights to the businesses that are really small or they want to grow and bring more people over,” she says. “I think that this is a really good way for the community to learn about their stories, and also try new dishes that they haven’t tried before.”

Siu-Nguyen knew from her experience as a waitress in college that most diners would try something new if they were told a little more about it. She remembers hearing bickering in the kitchen when chefs would debate if patrons would understand a potential new dish. She says she helped sell a lot of Schezwan chicken dishes after informing her tables about where it came from and the effect of the spice on the taste buds.  

“People just want to be informed about what they eat,” Siu-Nguyen says. 

Last month at Chai Thai-Lao, tables were decorated with place settings, banana leaves and cards with conversation prompts for about 40 guests squeezed into the small Jefferson Highway eatery. Siu-Nguyen assigned the seats to ensure that strangers sat next to each other to enjoy the meal. 

“Table Story is meant to be an opportunity for people to connect,” she says. “Everybody has something in common here. You have a menu. You’re all eating the same thing. Let’s start conversations and let’s have connections.” 

Each Table Story event features five courses, usually with appetizers, palate cleansers, entrees and desserts. Before each course is served, Siu-Nguyen’s husband Kenny Nguyen asks restaurant owners or employees to share more about the dish, like how it is prepared and why it was chosen for the event. 

The most recent event at Chai Thai-Lao began with servers and Nguyen washing attendees’ hands, a part of Thai and Laotian culture. Plates arrived soon after, holding tasty items like a stuffed chicken wing that had been carefully deboned, a one-bite Thai salad and a tapioca pudding dessert topped with mango and coconut cream. 

“For Kit (Keophommavong-Bradford) and her mom (Nang Keophommavong), curating the menu was the most fun thing because I told her, ‘The sky’s the limit. Put the menu that you have been wanting to do,’” Siu-Nguyen says. “I want to challenge the chef to have fun and to really bring who they are.”

Chai Thai-Lao’s mother-daughter duo certainly achieved this with their main course, a Pad Ped with fried soft-shell crab that had great flavor and an even better story. The labor-of-love dish is something that Kit and her siblings adore from their childhood, but will probably never make the menu. 

The next edition of Table Story is slated for Wednesday, July 17. Nguyen says it’ll be a little different than others in the past. Instead of tasting multiple courses from one eatery, ticket holders will get to indulge in courses from a variety of local businesses, like Okki Tokki, Oni Onigiri and Em’s Bakery. Chef Vu “Phat” Le will also prepare a dinner dish. This Table Story will take place at Counterspace Mid City and will have capacity for 45 participants. 

Laura Siu-Nguyen and Kenny Nguyen
Nang Keophommavong in the kitchen at Chai Thai-Lao

Siu-Nguyen hopes to keep the series going with more dinners planned through the end of the year. She says Table Story will continue with an intimate gathering of about 40 to 50 people, but she hopes to tack on multiple dinners per location next year so that more people can get in on the experience. 

“I think that as long as we have food and we’re able to share it and to talk a little bit about how this food makes us feel, everybody has a different experience,” Siu-Nguyen says. “But at the same time, we’re still connected through the same thing that we ate.” 

The next Table Story is Wednesday, July 17, from 6-9 p.m. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased here starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, June 11.