Group 7 Created with Sketch.
Group 3 Copy Created with Sketch.

Bain Coffman and Gui Junta met on the Staten Island Ferry when she was showing the city to friends who were visiting. Coffman grew up in upstate New York’s dairy country, and Junta grew up in Thailand. He lived in Staten Island; she lived in Queens and ran a restaurant in Manhattan. Junta had partnered in restaurants on the Lower East Side when he encouraged her to come see his neighborhood, which sits in the shadow of Borough Hall. Like every borough downtown, St. George has a big lunchtime crowd. But few business owners live in the neighborhood, even with its large residential population. The potential to connect with customers was something that drew Junta to the area, as her Manhattan customers were more transient.

Bain Coffman and Gui Junta, owners of Chang Noi Thai restaurant in downtown St. George, Staten Island. Photo: Tom Stoelker.
Bain Coffman and Gui Junta, owners of Chang Noi Thai restaurant in downtown St. George, Staten Island. Photo: Tom Stoelker.

“This is our home, this is our business, this is our neighborhood, and you have more connection,” said Junta. “In Manhattan, people might come in only one time in their lives, and then they’re gone. The tourists come, sit down, laugh, and don’t come back. In the restaurant here, I feel more connections, that everyone is like a friend.”

As the center of government in the city’s most Republican borough, the two see more customers from across the political spectrum than most city restaurants, even though the immediate area sways to the left. On a recent weekend, customers coming and going in the cozy eatery numbered about a dozen. Three languages were spoken at different tables. “It would be great,” said Coffman, “if people could understand each other and not say, ‘That’s weird,’ and instead say, ‘That’s just different; why do you do it like that?’”

Junta thinks the multicultural city would thrive if more people saw things through an immigrant’s eyes. “This is not my culture,” she said, “so everything is new in this country. As Bain said, I wish everyone would treat us kindly in the same way—if you are white, Asian, black, or anything.”

She has experienced prejudice, even in her own neighborhood. “Some people don’t like that I’m not the same color, the same culture, or the same people,” she said. But she believes that simply operating a business in the area has the potential to change perceptions. “People leave here and respect me and the restaurant; everyone respects each other. You can make peace together.”

Keep reading:

1. East Village, Manhattan: Ryan Haddad, Playwright and Performer at the Public Theater
2. SoHo, Manhattan: Charles Leslie, Founder of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, at the Museum
3. Arthur Avenue, the Bronx: Michael Rella and Peter Servedio, Butchers at Peter’s Meat Market, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market
4. Garment District, Manhattan: Nicola Caito and Camille Tetard, Patternmakers, at their Atelier
5. Grand Concourse, the Bronx: Basma Sheea, Bengali-American Singer, at the Andrew Freeman Home
4. Garment District, Manhattan: Nicola Caito and Camille Tetard, Patternmakers, at their Atelier
6. Grand Concourse, the Bronx: Elissa Carmona, Lead Singer and Founder of the Marrisania Band Project, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts
7. Washington Heights, Manhattan: John Paul Enfante, Writer and Teacher, at the Hispanic Society
8. Midtown, Manhattan: Ness McKelvey at Home
> St. George, Staten Island: Bain Coffman and Gui Junta, Restaurant Owners at Chang Noi Thai
10. Astoria, Queens: Admir Ekmestic, Former Soccer Player, at Mrki’s Place   ONLINE EXCLUSIVE
11. Astoria, Queens: Dee Flattery, Pub Owner at The Quay  ONLINE EXCLUSIVE
12. Tomkinsville, Staten Island: Veronica Arze, Café Owner at Duzer’s Local  ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

BROWSER UPGRADE RECOMMENDED

Our website has detected that you are using a browser that will prevent you from accessing certain features. An upgrade is recommended to experience. Use the links below to upgrade your exisiting browser.