Kelly Peacock

Thai Diner
Nolita, NYC
IOO (in our opinion) the hottest club in Vax City NYC is not really a club. It's Thai Diner. And we are SERIOUS. Standing proudly on the corner of Mott & Kenmare, this unassuming spot looks like a quirky diner at first glance. Enter in-- we recommend getting a res--to find it's so much more than that. Inside you'll be presented with a kaleidoscope of decor: vintage Thai movie posters, portraits of past royal families, a crystalline bar, shrines, plants, the list goes on. We sat down with GM Kelly Peacock to get the full story (along with a full plate of Hoi Frites: Mussels in Yen Ta Fo Broth) of how her upbringing brought about a love of food, and a journey through some of the most recognizable names in NYC restaurant history.
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Full name, age, where are you from?

My name is Kelly Peacock. I’m 32 years old, born and raised in NYC.

What was growing up like for you and did you have family meals growing up?

I had a pretty unique upbringing and it was definitely filled with a lot of food! My mom had her own catering company when I was younger and I learned to cook from her and my aunt. They are the best cooks I have ever known.

The meals I remember most as a kid were breakfast on the weekends filled with pancakes, french toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, mackerel, cream of wheat and corned beef hash. To this day I can’t say that I can eat fresh corn beef hash because I’m so accustomed to cooking it out of a can!

My aunt was always a fan of new recipes. Every time we were together she was making some new awesome dish, maybe from her childhood, maybe from a book she read. Maybe she just decided that she wanted to try something new. I would always be next to her in the kitchen, watching her prepare these meals, asking her a million questions. And in my true fashion, still to this day, the moment she leaves the kitchen I would sneak into the pot! I can still remember her screaming from the living room, “Kelly, get out the pot!”

For my birthday it was law that I had a pan of lasagna, my favorite food growing up. You could at that time call me Garfield!

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What meal, or beverage, most reminds you of your childhood?

I would have to say that a bowl of Captain Crunch in ice cold milk! Crunch Berries to be exact. It was a guilty pleasure for my sisters and I. Looking back it was pure torture, the way it would cut the roof of your mouth. No matter how many times you brush your teeth you would still taste those delicious crunch berries. At least for a few hours.

Tell us a bit about your venture. What is your role and how did you get into this industry?

On paper, I’m a general manager of Thai Diner but to most I’m just momma to the misfits. How I got here is a funny story, a bit of a crazy story to say the least. I was working retail on Fifth Avenue really needing a change. I went on a hunt looking for what the next best thing would be for me. Something that I could pour myself into for a little or just something that would get me out of my current situation. I stumbled upon an ad on Craigslist that was a summer live-in position as a cashier in the middle of nowhere, as far as I was concerned. To be exact, Shelter Island, LI.

I did some research and I couldn’t find much but did see that the logo contained a peacock. That pretty much sold me.  The market seemed like a whimsical time capsule. I was invited to interview with Chefs Matt and Ann. After leaving the interview that day I remember feeling like it was just what I was looking for. Although I really had no idea what I’d be doing. I knew I would live on an island in a house with 4 other people I didn’t know. Something like a reality tv show it felt like.

The night I drove to the island was a stormy night. My mother and nephew were with me and we had to drive the car on a ferry to get to the island. At this point I thought this could be like one of those Craigslist killer stories. I survived the night and the rest is pretty much history. I learned about their dream of opening a restaurant in NYC and I saw myself there. But there was major work to be done. The problem was I never worked in a restaurant before!

When the summer came to a close the real work began convincing someone to hire me. I had no experience but the gift of gab and a strong work ethic. Kefi was the first restaurant to welcome me into this world. They taught me so much.  A lot of the skills I learned there helped me get through this pandemic oddly enough. One of my jobs was as delivery coordinator, managing a small delivery team and expoing orders with the chef.

The past 10 years have been quite a ride starting my journey at Redding Market and moving on to Kefi, Rubirosa, Mec Bar, Uncle Boons, Mr. Donahues, Uncle Boons Sister, NoMad NY and Las Vegas. Then back home to Thai Diner. I’m a very lucky girl!

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How has the pandemic affected you?

This pandemic has affected me in so many ways. I moved back to New York right before Halloween 2019 from Las Vegas to open up Thai Diner. During the opening months the news was pretty unclear about the severity of what was to come.  We were open three short weeks before the city was fully shut down.  I remember dropping down at 50% occupancy at both Uncle Boons and Thai Diner and not really understanding what was unfolding.

I was living at home with my mom as I just moved back from the West Coast. She is a nurse.  My sister takes care of my niece and nephew and they were in elementary school. Suddenly everything was unrecognizable. We had to let go of pretty much 90% of our team and were very unclear about what the future held for all of us. The first three months of the pandemic were probably the hardest because there was such a darkness that came across the city. We really didn't have much much hope.

I think later on down the line I that I was able to see some glimmer that we were going to make it. It was a heart-wrenching year not seeing my family and friends, watching the children in my family switch to remote learning, fearing for my mother every time she went to work. I was lucky to have my family still here with me even after several COVID scares. Losing our mothership Uncle Boons really just felt like salt in an open wound.

I never thought that it wouldn’t exist. I think we all thought that Uncle Boons would be there forever. When all the regulations came out...the restrictions on dining indoors, the curfews, alcohol restrictions etc. it became very clear that Thai Diner would be our saving grace. Without the corner I don’t know if we would have survived. Maybe losing Uncle Boons helped with the success of Thai Diner. The silver lining is now that we are accessible to more guests than ever and we can share our love of our food and our culture with more team members, more guests and just be more of a piece of the community.

What do you think working in this industry during this time has taught you?

It’s been a whirlwind for sure but I feel like we all came out a little stronger and more compassionate . It’s taught me to be more present with my team and guests. To really take pride in the ability to make someone’s day sparkle. All it takes is an extra moment to build lasting memories.

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What's your favorite dish and drink on the menu?

I’m a gemini and have a hard time picking favorites. Right now I’d have to say I’m really obsessed with our mussels dish. Personally I could eat mussels and fries everyday. The Bangkok Dangerous might be one of my top 5 of all time. The presentation is so elegant while being, well you know.... dangerous.

Once it is completely safe to eat out again and socialize, where is the first place you're going out to eat at and what are you ordering?

It would need to be an eating day starting in Queens and ending in Nolita.

Pollos A La Brasa Mario for lunch! My favorite Columbian restaurant it’s truly a hidden gem in Astoria. I used to go here with my best friend and her dad whenever she would come in town. This is not a solo place for me 3 or 4 friends is perfect so I can order everything I want! Now what would I order? Colombians for the table and beer for everyone. House salad, bandeja paisa, yucca fries, tostones, half chicken, rice and beans, Chicharrón. If we make it to the end we’d end the night with tea and flan.

Cocktail break at Angel's Share.

Estela for dinner! I had a a slight obsession a couple years back. I loved sitting at the bar right in the corner where I could see the whole dining room. I don’t think I would be able to stray from my normal order because I miss it so much. I’d start with a Perry’s Tot Gin martini up with a twist. Then the food, ahhh the food. Endive salad, mussels, dumplings, black rice and lamb. Maybe Sherry for dessert.

Anything exciting coming up for you?

Right now I’m fully focused on making us the best versions of ourselves. Hitting the reboot button and being an inspiration to those who think this industry is too hard. It’s definitely not the easiest but nothing easy is ever worth having.

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