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Little Bee Thai switches gears from food truck to brick and mortar

Co-owner Jimmy LeBeau says the demand for Little Bee Thai outgrew its food truck. Photo credit WLOS

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Some owners of popular food trucks are moving forward by switching gears to a brick and mortar location.

At Little Bee Thai in Asheville, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in May.

"I get two Christmases this year," co-owner Jimmy Lebeau said with a laugh, while getting his first shipment of ingredients for his new restaurant on 45 South French Broad.

Nothing says "the holidays" like a truck full of fish sauce and coconut milk.

"We've got fresh chicken, wood ear mushrooms, fresh Thai basil that looks amazing!" he said. "I mean you can already smell it, it's amazing. "

Lebeau and his business partner Rick Corcoran decided it was time to answer the question they've been asked a thousand times. "We got asked almost every night, when are we gonna start a restaurant. When are we gonna start a restaurant?" he said.

Years ago, Little Bee Thai actually started in a South Asheville gas station before becoming a food truck phenomenon, but this new space is their dream come true.

"You gotta decide to grow at some point. The demand gets to be so much," Lebeau explained.

Suzy Salwa Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine made a similar leap last October.

"I can turn one key and get in there, and everything is under one roof," she said.

Salway set up shop on Patton Ave. in West Asheville, with kitchen space that dwarfs her mobile operation.

"You can add to the menu, you can be more creative," Salway said of her new digs.

The truck helped her build a brand.

"I definitely think it's an advantage," Salway told us. "People recognize the name. We've been on the street five years, we've established our name."

Now she has an inviting space where pictures of her mother are on the wall. That brings longtime customers to the table.

"I think she has such a loyal following that she'll have no trouble," Linda Frankl of Haw Creek said.

While the restaurant is picking up, Suzy has no plans to pull the brakes on the truck she calls Spartacus. "Food truck will always be there, it's just another venue to reach more people," she said.

On the other hand, Little Bee Thai sold its truck. Instead, they've decided to strike while the Thai chilies are hot.

"We decided to get rid of that because the demand was so much," Jimmy said. "We put our restaurant to the front of the line."

According to a National Restaurant Association study, the trend goes both ways. One in five traditional restaurants say they're likely to launch a food truck in the next couple of years.

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