Four Inane Questions with Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop’s Malisa Monyakula

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Restaurateur Malisa Monyakula tells us she started her entrepreneurial—and culinary—journey back in the second grade. Seems she made a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and tried selling them around her neighborhood.  

“We sold out and made $20 in all one-dollar bills. I will never forget—I came home with a wad of bills and showed my mom. We thought we were rich,” she says while laughing. “My mom congratulated us and then said, ‘You’ll need to pay me back for the ingredients, the electricity for the oven, and the use of my kitchen.’ Full stop—what?! And that’s how an entrepreneur is born.”

Monyakula—who moved from Bangkok to the U.S. in 1969—tells us she began working at the age of 14, bouncing around various retail shops and restaurants. In 1997, she got a wild hair to open her own restaurant in Lawrence, the beloved Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop, thanks to a start-up investment of $14,000,” she says. “I was still living in Kansas City and commuted seven days a week.” After three years in Lawrence, she moved her operation to the Crossroads. 

More than 25 years later, Monyakula still rules the roost at Lulu’s—and has now expanded her Thai culinary empire to three locations, including a new-ish one in Downtown Overland Park. 

“I’m forever grateful to all the great people who I have worked with throughout the years and continue to work with,” she says. “I couldn’t have done this without them.” 

We sat down with the restaurant pro to zing her with our litany of lame-o questions. We may or may not have eaten our weight in her homemade Vietnamese spring rolls while we waited. 

The Pitch: What’s the single most hideous cologne or perfume in the history of cologne or perfume? 

Malisa Monyakula: Any and all colognes or perfumes when you’re swimming in an indoor pool! 

One of my favorite ways to get exercise is by swimming laps at the Kirmayer Fitness Center. And—whoa!—there’s a reason you’re asked to shower before entering the pool. The smell of any perfume or cologne permeates the room and the water. In the water, it’s as if I am tasting the fragrance. Yuck! Not something I want to taste or smell when I am working out.

What’s a complicated dish you hate to make but love to consume?

Sukiyaki! I love Sukiyaki, but it takes a great deal of preparation to execute properly. To start, you need to make a clear, aromatic broth. Then comes all the precise knife work of cleaning the hanger steak, freezing it, and then slicing it paper thin. Then, there are all the vegetables and tofu to cut. 

But it really is so delicious and definitely worth the effort if you have the time and patience! 

What’s the single best Thai cooking hack/secret you are willing to share? 

Rice is one of those foods we make in surplus, so we are often left with plenty of leftovers. The best hack for leftover rice: Save it and make Khaw Phad (or fried rice). 

For best results, you’ll want to use day-old rice. At home, I use day-old rice with maggi—a delightful blend of soy sauce—eggs, diced ham, and any veggies I have in my fridge. 

Or I make a rice porridge called cok thi tha cak khawtm. The first step is to add water to the rice and bring it to a low simmer. Then, add pieces of omelet made with nampla, Chinese sausages, pickled veggies, and roasted peanuts, and season with fried garlic and maggi. Simple and delicious every time! 

Pickles—sweet or dill? 

I love sweet pickles with a good grilled cheese sandwich. That’s tough to beat! Dill pickles are fantastic on their own or on a burger, of course. Someday I hope to open a gourmet cheese sandwich and soup restaurant. Pickles will be a must on the menu.

Bonus 5th Question: Name one article of retro-rrific clothing you wish would make a comeback this year. 

Doesn’t everything come back around again, darling? How about a polyester pantsuit? I had to wear one in every kitchen I worked in during middle school and high school. 

Also, I love platform shoes. But haven’t they been back again? I always wanted to be 5’ 11”, but I only made it to 5’ 9.” I love being tall. I love being able to see over a crowd—so platform shoes are my favorite.

Categories: Food & Drink