Night Market offers a taste of Thai
Troy King, the executive chef behind the recently-opened Night Market, is a person who seems to live by the Asian-fusion restaurant’s slogan, “grab life by the bowls.”
King is already known for heading up the team at Wood Street Ramen. I meet with him to talk about Night Market, which is sandwiched between Pizza Hut and Marble Slab Creamery on 2nd Avenue.
The small space is long and narrow, just like a stall in a market. The tables are jade green and the wooden seating is a deep red. The lighting is subdued, but strings of white lights and colourful lanterns create a beach party vibe. From the speakers, Jimmy Buffet is wasting away in Margaritaville and the Beach Boys are singing about Kokomo and Key Largo.
Running the entire length of the main wall is a mural of a rainy night market with crowds wandering through food stalls. In King’s imagination, the people in the mural are coming to his stall, which offers refuge from the dreary drizzle.
You could interpret the mural as being a metaphor for the pandemic, where Yukoners have been enduring a long winter without the usual ability to escape to exotic locations, or even to Vancouver for some international cuisine we can’t get here. Night Market offers winter-weary folks a culinary getaway without leaving the territory.
“No one can go on vacation, so we try to bring the vacation here,” King says.
To create his vision of a night market, King had some local help. Dan Bushnell of Molotov and Bricks Tattoo, and King’s Wood Street Ramen neighbour, painted the mural. King credits Paul Cairns of Alpine Builders with creating a space which transports us to Thailand, if only for a while.
“I don’t know how the hell he did this,” King says, waving his hand at the space, which includes a pagoda roof detail around the bar. “He said ‘How about bamboo?’ I was like ‘Pfft! You’re never going to find bamboo!’”
But the builder found bamboo in Vancouver and it arrived in two weeks.
As King and I chat, general manager, Chase Dumoulin, places before me a virgin piña colada with a generous garnish of fresh tropical fruit. This mocktail and its boozy counterpart are typical of the bar program which features tiki-style concoctions you’d get while vacationing in Thailand.
And then there’s the food menu. Where Wood Street Ramen is all about noodles, King’s Thai-inspired venture features mostly rice dishes including poke bowls and curries. A few noodle bowls snuck on the menu as well because if he doesn’t offer pad Thai, Kings says, he’ll be kicked out of town.
As with Wood Street Ramen, King offers dishes for the gluten-free, pescatarian and vegan diners amongst us, as well as meat options. The meat and produce comes from local growers including Fox Ridge Farm and Elemental Farm.
And not just the food is local. The Night Market apparel is printed by Green Screen Printers. King’s philosophy is to support local businesses, an ethic he picked up growing up in Saskatchewan.
“I come from a big cattle farm. Support your neighbours and your neighbours will support you.”
How is it that a guy from Saskatchewan ended up running two Asian-inspired restaurants in Whitehorse? It began with King’s seemingly innocent side trip north while on his way to Asia a few years ago. King was training in Hong Kong and had returned home to Saskatchewan to visit family and friends. En route to Vancouver to fly back overseas, King decided to visit the Yukon, which was on his bucket list.
While staying at Inn on the Lake, King discovered they needed a chef so he took the job. He started doing ramen pop-ups at Woodcutter’s Blanket, which were wildly popular. When the demand for ramen proved more than the pop-ups could deliver, King found the permanent location on Wood Street.
King started recruiting Saskatchewanians he’d worked with when he was head chef in a Regina restaurant. A “skinny kid” named Chris Corner who started as a dishwasher seven or eight years ago and eventually became a sous-chef, is now a partner at Wood Street. Server Victoria Mills also moved up from Saskatchewan to join the team.
It wasn’t the team’s original intention to open a second restaurant. Far from it. Last July, King had a stroke that led to a loss of control of his right hand. He actually thought his career was over. He credits some “awesome doctors” and his team (especially Corner) with his recovery and subsequent ability to take on a new venture during the pandemic.
Last year, King knew people in Saskatchewan and Alberta who weren’t working. He convinced Kurt Beutler, who he’d worked with in Regina, to come to Whitehorse to be general manager at Wood Street. This freed up King to work on a new business.
“If you’d said to any one of us seven years ago, ‘you’re going to be north of 60 running a ramen shop’ we would have laughed you right out of the restaurant,” says King. Now, thanks to the “spell of the Yukon.” King is pretty confident the team will stay put.
King plans to. He says it reminds him of 1980s Saskatchewan. If your car breaks down, someone stops to help. People greet you on the street. There’s always something going on. It has the up-and-coming vibe Banff had 30 years ago.
“Whitehorse is exploding,” King says. He’s happy to be part of that explosion.
Night Market is entirely booked for its first month since opening March 30 so reservations are a must. Follow Night Market on Facebook and Instagram (@nightmarketyukon) for the latest updates and the link to online reservations.