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Mala Noodles, In The Pink come to Thayer

Owners discuss community reception, staffing, increasing diversity of flavors available on frequented street

<p>Mala Noodles and In The Pink opened in mid-June and mid-July, respectively.</p>

Mala Noodles and In The Pink opened in mid-June and mid-July, respectively.

Mala Noodles and health food shop In The Pink arrived on Thayer Street this summer, filling in the former Ganko Ittetsu Ramen and Pokeworks storefronts, respectively. Further up the street, signs in the former Blue State Coffee storefront read that Sydney, an Australian-inspired cafe, will be the space’s next occupant. 

The former storefronts of Ayame Hibachi Express, Beatnic, Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Rev’d Indoor Cycling remain vacant. Over the past two years, businesses on Thayer have experienced great turnover and reported challenges with inflation and staffing.

With Mala Noodles and In The Pink opening in mid-June and mid-July, respectively, their owners have adapted their offerings to cater to the Thayer customer base. 

In The Pink co-owner Chris Cancel said that the establishment is a “health-focused restaurant serving acai bowls … smoothies; cold, fresh juice (and) protein shakes.” Cancel picked the shop’s name because it means “in very good health and spirits.” 


“Going up and down (Thayer) street, all you really see is … late-night heavy food,” Cancel said. In The Pink is committed to using fresh fruits and vegetables to leave customers energized, he explained.

TK Quan, owner of Mala Noodles, explained that the restaurant is unique in the noodle experience that it offers. “Our big concept is (that) you choose your own ingredients,” he said. 

He also discussed how mala seasoning has a spicy, numbing effect that makes their noodles “way different than any other noodles.” 

While Quan understands that many College Hill customers may be unfamiliar with mala, he wants Mala Noodles to provide a homey dining experience at a reasonable price.

Quan said that Mala Noodles has received a positive response from the community thus far. The restaurant’s soft opening is still ongoing, and Quan hopes that its grand opening will encourage more people to sample the food.

According to Cancel, In The Pink has also seen a warm welcome, especially with a growing social media following. There were “kids from all over the world here … and it was really nice getting to know everybody,” Cancel said. “When customers come in, (I) know them on a first-name basis.”

Adapting to Thayer customers and a changing workforce

For Cancel, Thayer is “one of the best (locations) in the city.” With a takeout business model, he believes that the shop’s location helps him reach college students — a demographic he said is accustomed to rapid service and the comforts of delivery. 

Quan, who previously owned a Korean barbeque restaurant in Federal Hill, discussed how the target demographic varies, with Federal Hill clientele being older than Thayer customers. When Quan was planning his new restaurant, he shifted the business model to a “fast-casual” establishment. 

Ayia Tatari, Manager of Abu Yarub Al-Shami, noted that regular influxes of new students mean people who are willing to try new things — and order from new establishments.


Although Abu Yarub Al-Shami has been on Thayer for two years, Tatari said her father, owner Amir Tatari, has seen Thayer change over the past 30 years. With many new openings, “it’s definitely cool seeing new cultures come and bring their kind of food to the street,” she said. 

“Something that we really appreciate about being (on Thayer) is that you don’t have to be a long-standing business to be able to get customers because new students are coming in every year,” Tatari said. “It’s like you’re starting fresh every year … we have an equal chance of being tried out (as) other places.”

Tatari also described issues with staffing for businesses on Thayer. For the past two years, Tatari and her father have been the only two staff members. “It’s been really difficult to find someone who is passionate about food,” Tatari said. “We don’t want to just bring anyone. We want someone who’s experienced (cooking) Middle Eastern food.”

Quan mentioned that some employees from his Federal Hill establishment have come back to work at Mala Noodles, but the restaurant still faces staffing shortages.

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In contrast to the staffing challenges faced by many Thayer businesses, In The Pink has received many employee applications, Cancel said. Overall, he agreed that staffing is generally a concern in the current economy, but he is hopeful about expanding the In The Pink franchise. 

Quan said he hopes that Mala Noodles is a memorable experience that “radiates good energy.” Despite the challenges, Quan is optimistic about the future of Mala Noodles. “We are improving right now,” he said. “Today is at least better by one point than yesterday.”

Tatari discussed her excitement about changes on Thayer and meeting new customers. “I really appreciate how the students here are open to trying new things,” she said. “I think that’s what contributes to people being passionate and enthusiastic about opening a business from their culture (on Thayer).”

Avani Ghosh

Avani Ghosh is a Metro Editor covering politics & justice and community & activism. She is a sophomore from Ohio studying Health & Human Biology and International & Public Affairs. She is an avid earl grey enthusiast and can be found making tea in her free time.

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