When city officials cut the ribbon for Legacy Plaza on July 1, some may have noticed something missing between Snyder’s Shoes and All Occasions Events and Floral.
The Thai Mango, a family-owned Thai restaurant that opened in 2015, had packed up in December, when the plaza was still fenced in and under construction. Keeper’s Fish Shack stands in its place, and also held its grand opening on July 1.
But Thai Mango hasn’t left Ludington. Follow a sign south at Harrison Street that reads “Authentic Thai Food” and you’ll find it alive and well in a food truck outside Kerry’s Blinds.
For Lupe and Ning Rangel, the husband-and-wife team behind the restaurant, the truck isn’t a downgrade.
In fact, it’s what they originally wanted to create around 2013, said Lupe, who has a behind-the-scenes role supporting his wife, the head cook.
And there may even be a bigger kitchen in that truck than they had in the plaza, Ning said.
When construction overtook the plaza late 2020, getting supplies and customers in and out the door became “just ridiculous,” Lupe said.
“There was some access, but when there was snow and rain and ice … it was almost dangerous for customers to come there,” he said.
City Manager Mitch Foster told the Daily News he “would disagree” with the notion that businesses in the plaza weren’t “notified, updated and kept informed of closures as best as could be done.”
“There might have been times where they were completely shut off … but not for any length of time,” he said.
After a six-month break, the Rangels outfitted a food truck with the equipment from their plaza location. Kerry Gavigan, owner of the Kerry’s Blinds and Coldwell Banker building, heard about them and asked if they’d park the truck there for the Fourth of July weekend.
“(Lupe is) a vet … and I’m a vet. I just thought it was a nice thing to do,” Gavigan said, adding with a laugh, “and I think I might get a free lunch out of it.”
The Thai Mango truck has been parked at Gavigan’s building ever since.
The truck is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. That is, unless they run out of food early — a “growing pain” the Rangels are working to overcome, Lupe said.
Because they source ingredients directly from Thailand, where Ning was raised, trends in Asia can impact their supply.
“We actually use the Thai products my wife used when she was growing up,” Lupe said. “We’re feeling whatever effects are happening over there here with our business.”
Ning said she learned to cook in her mom’s kitchen, and she tries to serve Ludington the same food she ate there.
“I remember how it tasted when I ate my mom’s food,” Ning said. “To me, it’s more like passion, too. You’re happy when people like your food.”
The Rangels’ teenage daughters, Ayiana and Kateriya, help round out the truck’s staff, as well as one other employee from the plaza location.
“It’s tough with teenagers, but it’s nice,” Ning said. “We’re going to close in winter, and there’s more family time before they’re off to college and get on with their lives.”
Ning said she’ll keep the truck open “as long as we can handle the cold.” Lupe said he likes to serve Ludington locals in the colder, quieter months when other businesses close, so it’s possible that Thai Mango could return to a brick-and-mortar location.
“I can tell you that in my heart, and in my wife’s plan, we would like to see where it goes with a sit-down restaurant,” Lupe said. “I’m waiting for the right opportunity.”
While a return to brick-and-mortar could be somewhere on the horizon, it’s hard to complain about the present situation, Lupe said.
“When the owner of this building says, ‘Come on over, park in the parking lot, I want to help you out,’ — that’s America,” he said.