Walk through the door into Thai Taste at 324 East Blvd., turn toward the cash register at the back and there it is: The shrine to Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
It’s on the wall just over the table by the cash register, which also happens to be the exact table I saw Luke Kuechly sitting at with a small group for dinner one night this past year during my weekly Thai takeout trip.
Let’s take a look at the shrine, shall we?
In essence, it is simply a montage of iPhone photos restaurant employees have taken over the years. The bulletin board was first mounted about two years ago.
There’s a photo of Kuechly with employees dressed in, appropriately, Kuechly jerseys. There’s a photo of Kuechly with kitchen staff, and another of him with a heaping plate of pad thai. A newspaper cutout of Kuechly and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton accentuates the middle of the montage, with a poster of Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart to anchor it.
There’s a larger, framed photo of Kuechly with Thai Taste employees on the opposite wall by the wine shelves.
But … why?
Over the past four years or so, restaurant co-owner Roger Kongkham has seen Kuechly come in for dine-in or takeout, wearing a hoodie or a T-shirt.
“Usually he comes in very inconspicuous,” Kongkham said.
He wanders in once or twice a month during the regular season, and sometimes opts for home-delivery. He’s always low-key.
So is his order, which has been practically unwavering this whole time: Pad thai, double chicken, two stars spicy. And an appetizer, often the shrimp roll.
Kongkham admitted the bulletin board is a little cheesy, but his mother insisted they keep it up on the wall as a show of support for the local linebacker.
And despite the board, Kongkham said they don’t make a show of it when Kuechly comes in.
“We want to make sure we keep a comfortable atmosphere for him,” Kongkham said.
Still, he noted that Kuechly usually says “yes” to a photo if asked by a customer, once he’s finished with dinner.
“He’s a down-to-Earth guy,” Kongkham said. “Every time he walks in, it’s just like talking to a friend.”
Kuechly has publicly proclaimed that Thai Taste is one of his favorite Charlotte restaurants. Along with Ilios Noche, Cowbell and The Roasting Company. His agent couldn’t be reached Tuesday for more details.
Yet he did share in 2015 that takeout from Thai Taste was how he preferred to prepare for opponents, with a side of independent film study at Bank of America Stadium.
He has good taste. And if he ever wants to switch it up (Luke, are you reading this?), I recommend the tofu gaeng panang curry, four stars spicy.
It’s got quite the kick.
Photos: Katie Toussaint