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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Sabai Sabai’s renovations and new hot food bar driven by effects of pandemic

Sabai Sabai pictured amid its recent renovations.
Sabai Sabai pictured amid its recent renovations.

Sabai Sabai, Middlebury’s local Thai restaurant, recently reopened after a seven-week closure for renovations. During this time, the restaurant added a hot food bar that holds poké and ready-made dishes. The renovations were in response to the struggles the business faced during the pandemic, the owner said. 

Naphatsnun Sinpaksawat, known by many as “Tip,” runs Sabai Sabai alongside her husband. The pair moved to Vermont in 2008 and later to Middlebury in 2012. This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the iconic Middlebury eatery.

Sinpaksawat said that Middlebury is a community similar to Thailand: everyone knows each other and smiles at one another on the street. Even so, the pandemic raised issues of employment and supply for Sabai Sabai, things they already struggled with before the pandemic as well.

While Sabai Sabai sources their perishable supplies like meat and vegetables from nearby, around seventy percent of the ingredients Sabai Sabai uses in their dishes are imported from abroad. Over the last two years, it has been difficult to gather some of the essential ingredients needed, because of elevated prices as well as disruptions and delays in the supply chain. Sabai Sabai also struggled with disruptions in expected deliveries. 

“On certain days we have to adjust and work with the resources that we have,”  Sinpaksawat said.

The choice to renovate their restaurant and add the hot food bar was largely a strategy to combat the issues brought on by the pandemic. 

“With Covid-19 and the situation right now, it made us think, ‘OK, we need to adjust,’”  Sinpaksawat explained. 

Finding and paying steady employees, an issue the restaurant struggled with prior to the pandemic, has since become more difficult, one reason for the shift in operations. Even if the restaurant is unable to function as it typically has — with waitstaff and made-to-order food — in the future, it will still be able to operate its quick serve and poké bars. 

Sabai Sabai planned to be finished with renovations in six weeks. It was scheduled to reopen at the beginning of February after closing on Christmas day, 2021. However renovations took longer than expected, and the restaurant was unable to reopen until February 14. 

“It was definitely something that I missed when it wasn’t open,” said Sarah Miller ’24, a regular at Sabai Sabai. She said she went there for a friend’s birthday soon after the restaurant reopened. 

Sinpaksawat spoke about how having a positive outlook helped her and her husband persevere despite construction setbacks. She emphasized her appreciation for the patience and understanding of Sabai’s customers during their temporary closure. 

“Hopefully we can accomplish the goal we set out and bring more quality food,” she said.

In order to minimize losses during their closure, the owners chose to schedule renovations for the winter because the college would be out of session for breaks for part of that time, Sinpaksawat explained. 

Sabai Sabai ran a soft opening of the new quick-serve option during the first week after reopening: They offered three to four ready-made dishes that customers could purchase in a grab-and-go style. 

“Because we’ve been doing made-to-order for a long time, some people were kind of curious at first,”  Sinpaksawat said. 

As a result of customers’ mixed reactions to the addition of the quick-serve options, they decided to wait to fully launch that new aspect of their business. 

“We will hold back probably until after spring break or summer break, and we will put it back again,”  Sinpaksawat said.


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Since reopening, Sabai Sabai offers poké bowls. Pictured above.


The hot food bar is another strategy to combat long wait times that often arise. This too is chiefly a result of the understaffing caused by the pandemic. 

“We still have low staffing,”  Sinpaksawat explained. “Before, we had four or five people in the cook line, now we have only two people.” One is the head chef,  Sinpaksawat’s husband, and the other cook handles appetizers and soups.

Sabai Sabai hopes to encourage customers to try something new by offering a more diverse selection of Thai dishes in the quick-serve bar. 

“When you want to do something, love to do something, you want to bring it to others… say ‘Hey, I have a new dish that I want to offer,’”  Sinpaksawat said. 

They plan to also offer ice cream in their new food bar this summer. 

“We will have Asian style ice cream, like red bean flavor, flavors that have probably not been around,” she said.

Sinpaksawat said that she hopes for Sabai Sabai to be a part of students’ memories of their college experience, and that it is not just business, it’s friendship. 

“It means a lot to be a part of your guys’ life,” Sinpaksawat said.

Sinpaksawat emphasized her gratitude toward their customers during their temporary closure.“Thank you to students and professors for the continued support, for being very kind and understanding,” she said.


Susanna Schatz

Susanna Schatz ‘24 (she/her) is the Senior News Editor. 

She previously served as Local Editor, Staff Writer, and Visuals Artist for The Campus. She is an English major and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies minor.   

Susanna is the social media and marketing intern for a small business started by Midd Alums, Treeline Terrains. In her free time you’ll find her taking in the Vermont outdoors hiking, swimming, skiing, reading in an Adirondack chair, or painting the scenery.


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