A staple of Kansas City’s emerging food scene for 27 years, Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop’s growth and popularity wouldn’t have been possible without Malisa Monyakula’s team, the chef and owner said.
“I’ve had amazing people working with me since the beginning; people continue to gravitate toward helping me with my vision,” said Monyakula from the business’ Overland Park location, which opened in 2023. “Nobody’s working for me, we’re working together.”
Born in Bangkok, Monyakula combines Thai and American influences in her dishes, serving signature dishes like pad thai, Thai cashew chicken, lettuce wraps, and Singapore noodles.
The menu originates from the love and comfort of her family’s food, she said.
“The best childhood memories are with my dad cooking,” said Monyakula, noting recipes at Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop have been passed down from her father and grandmother.
The restaurant’s name, Lulu, also holds sentimental value.
“It was a childhood nickname,” Monyakula revealed.
Her path to becoming a restaurateur was shaped by her family’s support, including her retired father’s occasional visits and a special appearance at the opening of her first location.
Monyakula always had an entrepreneurial spirit, first starting her own screen printing business at 23, and then later running The Groove Farm record shop in Westport.
With her confidence growing from past ventures, she began work on a restaurant to call her own, driven by her passion for cooking and nostalgia from her loving upbringing.
“I wrote a couple of business plans to open a restaurant. It was about great childhood memories, everyone having fun together; I wanted to duplicate those feelings in a business setting,” said Monyakula.
Her first restaurant debuted in 1997 in Lawrence. She later moved Lulu’s to Kansas City’s Southwest Boulevard in 2000. Lulu’s currently operates three locations: in the Crossroads Arts District, the Westwood neighborhood, and Overland Park.
As Lulu’s has grown from its humble beginnings, Monyakula emphasized the importance of teamwork and cooperation to keep the ship running smoothly.
“We’re all in it together. The kitchen sends out the wrong order; it affects the front of the house too, we’re all a team,” said Monyakula. “It’s about the food, but it’s also about the people.”
Supporting local farming
Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop is committed to sustainability with each dish it serves, said Monyakyla.
“We’re like a 99-percent scratch kitchen,” she said, noting the restaurant uses fresh ingredients sourced from local farms.
During KC Restaurant Week in January, Lulu’s offered a fixed-price menu of Thai classics, with a portion of proceeds supporting a local charity organization.
New Roots is a four-year training program and collaboration between Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate KC. Both organizations work to provide farmer training and market support at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm.
“It’s really exciting to be working with New Roots, helping refugees learn sustainable farming and support themselves and their families,” said Monyakyla.
Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop also supports community initiatives by donating a plot of land to The Giving Grove, transforming the vacant spot into a thriving garden.
“This produces fresh food and fresh produce in food deserts in the inner city,” said Monyakyla. “It’s an opportunity to take vacant land, plant on it, and the community reaps the benefits.”