Ask John Greggs and Ning Bouasana why they wanted to open a restaurant in Tower District alongside their day jobs in real estate and accountancy and they’ll simply say, “We don’t.” Photo by Edward Smith.
Written by Edward Smith
Ask John Greggs and Ning Bouasana why they wanted to open a restaurant in Tower District alongside their day jobs in real estate and accountancy and they’ll simply say, “We don’t.”
What they wanted was to give Bousana’s mother, Kham Chounramany, a place to practice her craft where she could be her own boss and do what she loves most — cooking.
“Mom’s been working in restaurants for everybody else for a long time and wanted to start her own small place,” Bouasana said.
So Greggs and Bouasana used the savings they had built up to sign a three-year lease for Noodle Express in Fresno’s Tower District.
Chounramany, who co-owns the restaurant with her daughter, has nearly 16 years experience cooking the Thai and Laotian food they now serve at the former La Arepa space, across the street from Peach Pit. Ten of those years came as the chef for Million Elephant before it closed in 2015. It was working at Million Elephant where Greggs and Bouasana met before they married — Bouasana as a bartender and waitress and Greggs as a bartender and business consultant.
Greggs said Chounramany, who doesn’t speak much English, was semi-retired and bored at home. She worked at the 500 Club for a while, but working for someone else on food not of her own recipes began to frustrate her.
Even in retirement, Chounramany is known as the one who brings all the food to weddings and church. “She’s an active person, she wants to do something,” Greggs said of his mother-in-law.
Chounramany, her sister and nephew cook traditional Southeast Asian dishes such as Pad Thai or curry that can be “fully customizable” with extra vegetables or extra meat, Greggs said. They also serve pho and Thai chicken noodle soup. Down the road, they may look into getting a beer and wine license, because as Greggs said, just like cerveza goes well with tacos, a nice Thai beer complements good Thai food.
The April 29 opening of the small noodle shop at Olive and Echo avenues did not go unnoticed. Customers from all over have been patronizing the restaurant, both in anticipation of a new Thai eatery but also out of remembrance for Million Elephant. On opening day, the line went out the door, Bouasana said. A few people whose lunch breaks were too short to be served Monday returned on Tuesday.
“Man, we have been humbled,” Greggs said. “Since Monday we have been shown so much love and support from those who know mom and who know mom’s food.”
Reportedly, the first customer for Million Elephant also became the first customer for Noodle Express after following the restaurant’s extensive social media campaign.
Those responses also made the duo rethink their business model.
“Our whole thing was to do grab-and-go, casual, to-go food,” Bouasana said.
“But most of our old customers at the Million have really chosen to stay and dine in,” Greggs continued. “So we are going to have to change up the game and plan a little bit.”
At the moment, Noodle Express operates six days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It closes at 7 p.m. on Sundays.
They may decide to close one day a week to “give mom a break,” Bouasana said. But that remains to be seen.