Remembering Buddy Milburn of Ubon Thai Cuisine
Last month, the Wilmington area said farewell to a uniquely successful restaurateur—Norris “Buddy” Milburn of Ubon Thai Cuisine, who died unexpectedly after suffering a stroke.
Milburn was uniquely successful because of the way he helped grow his family’s business from a small location in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania, to a spot at Wilmington’s Riverfront Market in 2000. The name Jeenwong Thai Cuisine honored his wife, Kamphon, and her family, and it was dishes like Yai’s Signature Rolls, a Jeenwong family recipe, that helped earn its outstanding reputation.
In September of 2011, Milburn and his family expanded the business just a mile down along the Riverfront with the opening of Ubon Thai Cuisine. Starting in 2013, the restaurant went on a six-year streak of winning Best of Delaware in the Thai cuisine category. To win Best of Delaware once is an honor. To win six times in a row is a measure of true success.
Likewise, for the past three years, Ubon has also earned the distinction of “Thai SELECT,” a certification that Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce awards to restaurants worldwide that serve and promote authentic Thai cuisine.
Milburn was also uniquely successful in the way he maintained a loyal staff—not an easy feat in an industry in which turnover is common. In many ways he used the restaurant as classroom, teaching the elements of the industry to his two sons, Narrinchai and Norrawit, as well as area novices and rookies from faraway lands.
Two years ago this month, Out & About wrote about the foreign exchange program that Ubon participates in, bringing in students from Asian countries to learn all aspects of restaurant management. We spoke to 25-year-old Tham Hong Tran, a graduate student from Ho Chi Minh City University in Vietnam.
“I’m getting a chance to learn how a restaurant works in America, but at the same time seeing it through Asian cuisines,” Tran said. “I came here in December, and Ubon has helped me feel at home. They set me up with a place to stay, my English is getting better, and I’m really enjoying my time in America.”
Last but certainly not least, Milburn was uniquely successful in the way in which he supported the local jazz and R&B communities. Every Wednesday night and Sunday evening, Ubon would be filled with the rich sounds of music from area acts such as Gerald Chavis, Stacia Lachole, Pristine Reign, Sharon & Shawn and Aniya Jazz. The lush, mellow sounds complemented Milburn’s easy-going nature.
In Milburn’s obituary, it said: “Buddy was known for his infectious smile and hearty laughter, which brought joy to those who surrounded him.”
The staff at Out & About will miss him, and wish his family all the best moving forward.