Chez Quan's delivers good tunes and even better food.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

Quan rules everything around me” is the much more applicable version of Wu-Tang Clan’s hit song CREAM off their 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It’s, in essence, what Thai/Latin restaurant on Aurora Road in Melbourne, Chez Quan’s, is all about.

Owner Adam Woodworth, 41, is the vessel and his mother and Co-Owner, Ounjit “Quan” Rutirasiri, is the soul of the restaurant. The local eatery is Rutirasiri’s dream presented with Woodworth’s flare and love of everything hip-hop, including graffiti art.

It was 2016, just two years after opening its doors, when the City of Melbourne mandated the fledgling restaurant remove the colorful graffiti artwork on the east side of its building. It was this single event that would put Chez Quan’s on the radar of Brevard eateries and become the catalyst for the business’ rapid growth.

“I didn’t expect the community to support us in the way they did,” shared Woodworth. “Look at me…I’m a big, brown tattooed guy. People were coming to our restaurant just to take selfies in front of the mural and were posting their support on social media to keep it.”

Even local respected collage artist, Derek Gores, then president of the Eau Gallie Arts District board of directors, expressed, in front of city council members, his support of the mural and reforming public art ordinances.

Although Woodworth ended up painting over the mural to show his respect (and to avoid the hefty fine), the hip hop in his heart and food remained a steady beat, and the restaurant has grown quite a cult following.

A strong urban identity permeates throughout the hip dining hot spot – from décor and merch, to the menu and Woodworth’s tagger style writing on to-go boxes. Magazine cutouts of rappers are decoupaged on the wall that separates the kitchen from the dining area and bright, bold, original artwork by local artists hang on equally colorful walls. Kool-Aid packs of almost every flavor sit behind the counter which children and nostalgic middle-aged customers alike appreciate and order with vigor. And, of course, the best ’90s hip hop streams overhead while patrons enjoy traditional and non-traditional Thai and Latin cuisine.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

Chez Quan’s is definitely not yo mama’s Thai restaurant; it’s a brand. You can represent it with pride on your back or laptop. Logo t-shirts donning a slightly modified version of the Wu-Tang Clan logo and stickers featuring Woodworth and his mom as lego characters created by pop art Artist Jamie Meagher (@PetalandBone) are available for purchase. It’s almost as if wearing a Chez Quan’s t-shirt would mean you’re a part of an underground sub-culture of cool Brevardians.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

“Everything tastes better when you’re listening to good music,” says Woodworth.

He goes on to describe his passion for music, specifically ’90s hip hop. “Let’s say your dish comes out a little too spicy. If you’re listening to good music and you’re in a good mood, it doesn’t matter that your mouth is burning.” Woodworth laughs aloud. Method Man with a side of Pad Kee Mow (Spicy Drunken Noodles), please.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

It’s this kind of candor and originality that makes the restaurant what it is. Local married couple and diehard fans Mike and Kate have been dining at Chez Quan’s once a week every week since the urban Thai eatery opened in 2014. The Melbourne Police Department has been a fixture in the restaurant since its inception. They were also the impetus for the restaurant’s growth from a take-out joint with six chairs to what it is today.

“Melbourne P.D. has been one of our regulars from day one. They’d arrive for lunch in big groups of sometimes 13 people and I’d have to run to the back to pull out all the extra chairs I could find so everyone could sit and eat together.”

About a year after opening the restaurant expanded to double its size by acquiring the empty space next door. They tore down the wall that divided the two units of the strip mall and doubled in square footage.

More space meant more wall art for Woodworth to share his love of urban art. It’s like walking into an art gallery in Brooklyn, but with a mouth-watering aroma of garlic and Thai spices. Art by local artists adorns every wall and most of it is for sale. Woodworth is all about supporting the community that rallied with him and his restaurant in their time of need.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

When asked about the design inspiration for his restaurant Woodworth quickly commented, “There’s no way I was going to put stuff from Marshall’s on my walls.”

So instead of meaningless chachkies, customers will experience authenticity in every regard when dining at Chez Quan’s. They will become deeply intimate with Woodworth’s love of street art, ’90s hip hop and his family. They will eat craveable Thai food and sip on Thai Iced Coffee while bumping their head to Nas, Tribe Called Quest and Mobb Deep. They will see “Mama Quan,” as she’s referred to by loyal customers, in her adorable hair net and big, beautiful smile. And, for the lucky ones, they may even know the secret Chez Quan handshake, earning them a discounted meal.

Everything on the menu are recipes from the family matriarchs on both sides – Woodworth’s Thai mother and his Puerto Rican mother-in-law. New patrons looking for a slam dunk might want to stick with Chez Quan’s most popular dish, the Spicy Minced Basil Chicken (two Zelda hearts on the menu means very spicy), the Sawadeezle, a clever combination of two popular dishes – Thai Beef Salad and Chicken Fried Rice (also two Zelda hearts on the spicy scale), wings (plain, medium, hot, sweet Thai chili, teriyaki, or sesame), or Woodworth’s favorite wok fried noodle dish Lad Na. Those feeling adventurous can explore the more exotic fried rice, noodle, curry or sandwich offerings. Those wanting Latin fare would enjoy the Picadillo or Pan Con Lechon.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

Of the 12 employees at Chez Quan’s, nearly half are relatives. Woodworth’s eldest child of five, 21-year-old Aryanna, works there part-time alongside her beloved grandmother Quan. Woodworth’s sister Soitip will pop in from time to time to help out, which, according to him, is when the restaurant really shines.

When asked about what’s in store for the restaurant’s future, Woodworth excitedly repositions himself on his stool and shares, “We’re going back to where it all began. We’re looking into opening a second location beachside in the building my mom’s first restaurant [Quan’s Wok n’ Roll] was in in the ’80s.

Photography by Stephen Leininger

“I would like our restaurants to be big enough to one day pass down to my children. I would also like coming into work every day to be an option [not a necessity] for my mom. She sacrificed everything for me and my sister.”

At the rate it’s going, it seems Chez Quan’s will be serving up its Thai home cooking and Kool-Aid for years to come. Woodworth and Quan are unapologetically themselves – authentic to the bone – and the community has responded with open arms and bellies.

Chez Quan’s
1470 Aurora Rd., Melbourne, FL 32935
IG: @chezquanthechef
FB: Chez Quan’s
Twitter: @chezquanthechef