Pictured: Adam Lyons, co-owner of Kin Khao Thai
Adam Lyons owns and runs two Thai restaurants called Kin Khao Thai with his wife Janya. One has been based in Athlone for over sixteen years, and more recently another has opened in Maynooth. Kin Khao Thai Maynooth is the only Thai restaurant in Ireland with a charcoal grill, which is the traditional way to cook in Thailand, while Kin Khao Thai Athlone is the only Thai Restaurant in Ireland included in the Michelin Guide for 2020.
What was your first job?
My first job was working at The Sands Hotel in Portmarnock at the tender age of 14. My uncle, Donie Nugent, was a well-known band leader in his day and knew the boss and put a word in to get me an interview.
I turned my hand to everything during my summer at The Sands. I stocked shelves, cleaned rooms, did the gardening, worked security at Tomango’s Nightclub. This ensured myself and my ‘gang’ getting past long queues and free entry for many years to come! One of the first pirate radio stations, Sunshine Radio, was in a portacabin in the car park, and I used to hang around outside hoping to get an invite but unfortunately I was never “discovered.”
What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?
I would have to say the creation and making of Kin Khao Thai Athlone is my/our greatest achievement. I say ‘my/our’ because Janya, my wife and business partner, is the real brains in the business. One very busy Saturday night in Athlone several years ago, a regular diner was gushing about Kin Khao Thai and how proud I should be of my achievement! She failed to mention Janya, at which point, sharp as a razor, Janya put her hand up and said, “Adam is but the show pony, I’m the work horse in this business!”
Kin Khao Thai is like a member of the family. I would consider myself quite sensitive to how our restaurants are perceived, and have an antennae that picks up minor things in the restaurant. Being particular about your business sets a standard for your staff and it shows customers you care.
Last year, we decided to add to the pressure by opening our second Kin Khao Thai, this time in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Kin Khao Thai Maynooth is a little different to Athlone in that we specialise in food from one main region of Thailand: Isaan. This is in the north east and the food is very different. It’s quite fiery and sharp. We ferment a lot of ingredients, and we use an open char grill to cook most of our meats, poultry and fish.
In three words or less, how do you define success?
Family, health, happiness
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Seek counsel, and make your own decision.
How do you motivate yourself and your staff?
I motivate myself by making goals and working towards achieving them. I love the creative side of the business. We are currently revamping Kin Khao Athlone, and I enjoy the planning, dealing with the builder, and sourcing the materials.
I did the same for Maynooth which included a few trips to Thailand which really added to the enjoyment. Sourcing in Thailand is all about ensuring the authenticity of Kin Khao Thai in every aspect of the business. I think it’s really important to do work to your strengths and let others on your team work to theirs. Janya and I complement each other as we both bring different talents and strengths to the business.
Janya and I have a passion for food and, in turn, our business. Everything about Kin Khao is important to us, and our team witness our passion daily. This hopefully instills a sense of pride and ownership in the work they do.
How do you relax?
I attend yoga twice a week, and meditate regularly. I find it great for the creaky body and furious mind!
I also enjoy reading. I really feel a good book can be your best companion, and enjoy a good novel along with some nonfiction. I just finished Winston Churchill’s biography of the Second World War. He was a man who honed the art of mediation and consensus.
Pia, my 13 year old daughter, and I regularly walk the Athlone countryside along with Mossy, our dog. We are also both having horse riding lessons. I am grabbing every opportunity to spend time with her whilst she still wants to be seen with her Da.
I adore a good restaurant. Good food, a nice wine list, and simple service. It’s a busman’s holiday when I do go out. I’m checking glasses and forks all the time. It drives Janya and Pia mad.
What’s your motto?
I have two mottos to live by. The first one is “EQ is greater than IQ.” So many times in my life I have found empathy is a much stronger gift than knowing everything, but not knowing how others feel.
“Dust yourself off, get out of bed, there will be a beacon of light along the road.” I’m 55 and so far in my life, I’ve experienced periods where life outside looks a little bleak. There does come a time when something inside tells you to put your feet on the ground and start moving again. Things seem to start falling into place then.
What are your aspirations for the future of the business?
My big ambition is to establish Kin Khao Thai Maynooth as the ‘go to’ for real deal Thai in the east of the country. This is my challenge for 2020. We will achieve this by keeping it real and not deviating from our vision for the food and the venue. Kin Khao Thai is different because we always aspire to be the best. We recruit all our staff in Thailand. We work hard on our standards and being recognised by the likes of the Michelin Guide is the reward for all of us.
Kin Khao Thai Athlone is the mother of the Kin Khao family. I have plans in my head for it, starting with a complete revamp. I’m off to Thailand next week to source the interiors for the building – a hard job, but someone must do it!