“It’s definitely time for a change and we have 100% made the right decision to close. We are really excited about the future,” Rufus and Ladd Thurston tell me, as we sit in their revered Oxford restaurant Oli’s Thai, which is closing at the end of February for good.
News of its imminent closure has spread like wildfire across Oxfordshire, and bookings are now full until it closes (although there are always walk in spaces available at the bar), so we tracked the pair down to find out why and what’s going on.
The quick answer is that Rufus and Ladd are opening Elle’s Deli instead in April at the Magdalen Road venue in East Oxford, as well as planning hosting monthly supper clubs, pop-ups and a cookbook.
But why not just open a bigger Oli’s Thai? “We thought long and hard about that but with staffing issues as they are and Covid, it doesn’t seem like the right time, which isn’t to say it won’t happen in the future,” Rufus adds.
“Opening a deli is something we have wanted to do for a really long time. It gives us so much more freedom and allows us to tie in Arbequina and Oli’s Thai together in what we sell, whether that be Thai salads, Spanish tortilla or pulled pork sandwiches
Arbequina is of course their equally successful tapas sister restaurant on Cowley Road, co-run with Ben Whyles and Ben Bateman, so Elle’s will sell lunch and takeaway meals from as well as home-made Thai pastes and sauces, cheese, fish, meats, charcuterie, Thai and Spanish food and ingredients, “and anything else we fancy,” Rufus grins.
“We put out heart and soul into Oli’s Thai but it’s time for a change and we know that we’ve 100% made the right decision”
So for those who can never get a foot in the door because Oli’s Thai is fully booked, this could be your opportunity to actually try their food, albeit in your own home.
“We will have a little hatch and some stools so people can come for coffee and perch there, but ultimately Elle’s will be a deli,” Rufus adds.
The couple’s two children, yes you guessed it Oli and Elle, also factor into their equation, the pair wanting to spend more time at home in the evenings.
Ladd says: “We have had a great run and put out hearts and soul into Oli’s Thai but it’s time for a change.
Even so the pair were stunned with the response: “We have been overwhelmed with the messages of support from our customers, some of whom have been coming here for years. Becoming part of the community on Magdalen Road and in East Oxford only made our decision harder, but we just had to be strong enough to make that call,” the admit.
It’s been nine years since the couple opened Oli’s Thai, (the pair met while working at Chiang Mai’s in Oxford), an enormous risk and commitment at the time: “No one came for ages when we opened,” they remember, “and then the reviews came in, yours and other local reviewers and then the nationals. But it was a good three years before we had to introduce the booking system with a three month waiting list.”
So why did Oli’s Thai work so well? “The menu was just the food we loved and wanted to eat, not the classics you’d expect, so you couldn’t get it anywhere else. And Ladd’s Thai roots and knowledge meant that we could pick up the phone and ring Thailand when we needed recipe advice.”
And then Ladd herself adds: “But we will carry that on into Elle’s and are really excited about the future. There’s nothing like opening a new business.”