It’s the first nice day Chicago has seen in a while, and Suppaluk Meunprasittiveg, known by his customers as Tee Cozy, is sitting at one of his handmade mosaic tables near the window of his authentic Thai restaurant in downtown Wrigleyville. Papers are sprawled around his laptop as he works, his charger is plugged into the wall beside him, and the sun illuminates his face through the glass. It’s not too busy inside Cozy Noodles n’ Rice yet, but soon enough, the four-car parking lot will be full, customers will be crowding the restaurant, and Tee Cozy will be cooking up some of his most popular dishes.
Tee Cozy sits beside the front window of his restaurant working at his laptop. Cozy opened Cozy Noodles n’ Rice in 2003. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
Tee Cozy’s nickname comes from the number three. As the third son in his family, the number holds value to him, and he believes Tee is an easy name to remember. But there is more to know and remember about Cozy than just his nickname. After graduating from Bangkok University and moving to Chicago from Thailand at 21 years old in 1996, Cozy had no idea that Cozy Noodles n’ Rice would be his future. The restaurant that he has established in Wrigleyville thrives, and it’s not just because of the food.
Tee Cozy’s goal is to spread love to his customers as much as possible. The moment a customer steps into Cozy Noodles n’ Rice, they are greeted by a sign on the back brick wall reading, “COZY <3 YOU,” and the loving atmosphere is what makes Cozy’s customers return.
“I think that the most important thing that I learned from Thailand is how to love people, how to love each other, how to love friends, how to respect friends, how to be nice to people, how to work hard,” Cozy says.
For Cozy, his customers are most important. He sees potential in each person that walks through the double glass door to develop a relationship not just through his food, but through communication.
“I want to learn them. I want to know them. I want them to become my friend,” Cozy says.
“Cozy Loves You” hangs across the restaurants main wall, greeting customers as they walk through the door. Tee Cozy says the main goal behind his restaurant is to spread love. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
Thailand is also responsible for most of the recipes Cozy uses to craft his seemingly endless menu. Customers have curry and noodle options, entrees including chicken, beef, tofu and seafood, and lychee over rice for dessert.
Chicago Cubs fans can even order off of a specialty menu with entrees named after some of the Cubs most memorable aspects, like Brick & Ivy, an almond-breaded duck breast tenderloin mixed with spicy Korean barbeque sauce, named after Wrigley Field’s famous ivy wall.
“Basically, all the recipes are from my mom,” Cozy says. “A long time ago, she would go to the Vietnamese market and take a look to see what is possible to make [in the United States], like a specialty soy sauce or fish sauce. She’d make a list and say, ‘Okay, this is something I can find here.’ All the vegetables have to be adapted because for some people, it seems inedible. My mom, she just created.”
Not only does Cozy cook every meal with love as his main ingredient, but each one is served on ceramic plates molded in the shape of a heart, reinforcing that love is what matters most at Cozy Noodles n’ Rice. Each plate, Cozy said, shows that his heart is open.
“When I serve the food, I say ‘I love you,’” Cozy says. “I think 80% of customers say, ‘I love you, too.’ It’s important to get more communication, to get more involved. ‘Hi, how are you?’ is good, but it’s not my style.”
His “style” is inspired by Matt Deletioglu, who owned the Cozy Noodles n’ Rice building before he died. Deletioglu was a thoughtful man, and many of the lessons that Cozy has learned since moving to Chicago have been because of the man he referred to as “daddy,” and the one who called him “son.”
Matt Deletioglu’s photograph hangs on one of the restaurant’s decorated walls. Cozy attributes many of the life lessons he has learned to Deletioglu. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
Cozy met Deletioglu one day when he walked past his building before work. Deletioglu was cleaning the parking lot outside, and Cozy thought he was a janitor.
“Hey, you work here?” Cozy asked.
“Do you have an appointment?” Deletioglu replied.
Cozy said he didn’t.
“Come back tomorrow,” said Deletioglu, “I’ll have a key for you.
The next day, Cozy returned to the site at the same time. Deletioglu was standing outside, key in hand.
“Now we have an appointment.”
“He taught me, the first day I met him, to not assume things,” Cozy says. “He asked me, ‘what’s your concept?’” Cozy pointed to a corner of the room and said, “My restaurant concept is so easy: Simply good Thai food served with love and happiness. I’m going to put love in every inch of my restaurant, as much as I can.”
Deletioglu nodded at Cozy in approval, but he had one more question for him.
“Are you a dreamer, are you a follower, or are you a doer?”
“I said, ‘come on, I’m gonna do it,’” Cozy says. “He gave me a key for free. I didn’t have to pay for the key. He just said, ‘For you to make your dream come true.’ The thing that he gave me? Opportunity. My cozy life started there.”
The restaurant’s exterior is decorated with welcoming neon signs. Cozy said when he first saw the building, he knew it was the perfect place for him to open a restaurant. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
A lot has changed in Wrigleyville since Cozy opened his restaurant on Sept. 4, 2003, including construction near and around Clark and Addison, a remodelling of some features of Wrigley Field, and even a World Series win for the Cubs in 2016, but for Cozy, only one thing is different.
“There’s only one thing that’s changed at Cozy,” Cozy says, “and that’s more love.”
Well, more love and more decorations. To Cozy, the thing that makes his restaurant special is not just the accepting atmosphere, but the unique way the place is decorated.
Cozy started collecting tin toys when he was in high school. In Thailand, he said, tin toys were popular, and when he moved to Chicago, Cozy continued collecting, thinking that if he ever moved back to Thailand, he would have an abundance of American toys to take with him. His collection has grown to the point that it not only fills Cozy Noodles n’ Rice with decor, but his house as well.
Cozy’s goal with his decorations is not just to make Cozy Noodles n’ Rice stand out from similar restaurants, but to make his customers feel joy.
“Who sees a toy and isn’t happy?”
A statue of Elvis stands in the corner near the restaurants counter. Cozy has been collecting toys and trinkets like the ones decorating the wall since he was young. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
Despite the hundreds of toys in his collection, there are two in particular that hold special places in Cozy’s heart. He displays them up on high shelves in his restaurant to keep them safe, and they have traveled with him all the way from Bangkok.
“I have one robot here, the one that I played with when I was a kid,” Cozy says. “I love him so much. The day that I came to Chicago in 1996, I put him in my luggage to come with me.”
Now, his robot sits high above the restaurant, looking over each customer that walks through the door and greeting them with his massive, red robot eyes.
Tee Cozy’s toy robot stands alongside others in the restaurant. Cozy said it was one of the toys he brought with him when he moved from Thailand. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
Cozy’s other favorite toy is a small tin steamboat with the number eight painted on top that he used to play with when he was little. He would pour water inside, light a small candle, and wait for the steam to move the boat around.
“This [boat] is so special for me and my life,” Cozy says. “For Asian people, the number eight is lucky, and if you turn it sideways, it’s infinity. And look at the window, you see Tee and Julie.”
Tee Cozy’s favorite toy sits on one of his mosaic tables. Cozy says the boat carries his family, the “8” on top symbolizing love for infinity. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings
In his steamboat, Cozy says, is his entire family. He and his wife, Julie Udomwongyont, are represented by the cartoonized man and woman steering the steamboat in the right direction, while the rest of his family sit inside.
“Inside, I carry my things and my family, led by me, to the future and through infinity,” Cozy says, “always moving forward.”
And just like his tin steamboat, Cozy’s restaurant is always moving forward, led by Cozy with love, to the future, through infinity, and with endless delicious meals.
Tee Cozy poses beside a statue of Mario. Holding up a peace sign is his signature pose in photos and selfies. Taylor Smith, Ball Bearings