My Suffolk Life: ‘We had to move to Suffolk to be together’ 

Jubby, Bruce, Willow and Winston Whitehead 

Jubby, Bruce, Willow and Winston Whitehead - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The Covid pandemic of 2020 and beyond brought with it a heartache crisis. Heartache for those who lost loved ones. Heartache for those separated by borders or oceans. 

Amongst that number were Jubby and Bruce Whitehead, who were forced to spend an unbearable 18 months apart, with no end in sight. 

Thai native Jubby, then an international teacher and fashion entrepreneur, was practically left a single parent in her home country, where she’d gone to visit family pre-lockdown with infant twins Winston and Willow. While husband Bruce, a PGA golf pro with a successful business that saw him working across the Far East, Australia and America, was stranded with their pets in Shanghai during the crisis. 

Communication was by China’s equivalent of Whatsapp, which Bruce says led to his children not recognising him.  

And there was no bypassing the strict and complicated Covid rules and visas of either country. 

There was only one thing for it – a move to the UK, and to Suffolk, where Bruce (who hails from Monks Eleigh) grew up. 

Belongings were stashed in storage. Pets left with foster families. All their finances, now untouchable, remained in Chinese banks. But at least, the couple say, they can finally be together. 

Jubby Whitehead is a traditional Thai cook offering takeaways in Hadleigh

Jubby Whitehead is a traditional Thai cook offering takeaways in Hadleigh - Credit: Charlotte Bond

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Despite difficulties emotionally, and physically, trying to build a home for their children since they landed last summer, Jubby and Bruce have managed to carve out a new life in the countryside. More specifically in Hadleigh, with Bruce giving up his golfing career to support Jubby’s new and unexpected direction in life – cooking and selling the food of her childhood with her business, Real Thai Food.  

Today, just three months after launching, Jubby has a fortnightly stall on Hadleigh Market, a spot at Colchester Farmers’ Market, has been invited to cook in the ITFC Fanzone next season (after a successful trial), and offers takeaway and delivery from her five-star rated kitchen almost every day. 

It's quite a different scene from their life in Asia. The couple met in Bangkok where, despite Jubby’s initial uncertainty, they worked together in their spare time rehoming and rehabilitating around 100 animals together, including a severely disabled dog which had been crushed by a pig. 

When Bruce, whose business was in golf development, got the call to work in China, he continued to travel month-on, month-off between Shanghai and Bangkok. It was their first taste of life apart. 

“Jubby got pregnant after the first year and the kids couldn’t travel until they were over a year old. I’d come back home and my daughter wouldn’t recognise me. Then she’d remember, and off I’d go again. It was difficult, but I knew my business would grow in China.” 

Eventually, Jubby, Willow and Winston relocated to Shanghai, with ambitious Jubby, who loves to be busy, continuing her teaching career. 

“It was a nice, comfy life,” she recalls. “In Asia we have people who come in the house and help with everything. I would come home from work and I didn’t have to do anything. They’d help with the kids and the housework so I could cook. Help is easy to get there, and not so expensive.” 

Jubby, who’s self-taught, says she’s always loved to cook. And once Bruce got her into fitness, she became even more obsessed with making their meals herself, from scratch. “I don’t like to buy food,” she says. “I don’t want to eat too much oil. I prefer good, healthy food. And I’m always in the kitchen feeding everyone!” 

While working in China Jubby did take on a little side hustle (one of the buzz phrases of 2021-22) selling pad Thai and sticky rice with mango. But never could she have imagined one day it would become her main source of income. 

Jubby's authentic pad Thai

Jubby's authentic pad Thai - Credit: Charlotte Bond

At the end of 2019, she and Bruce began planning a visit with her family in Thailand for Chinese New Year.  

Early in 2020 Jubby went on to stay in Bangkok, while Bruce worked in Orlando. “The news about Covid came in while I was there, and all my flights were getting cancelled. We had two dogs and cats in Shanghai, and the people looking after them couldn’t have them for more than two weeks!” 

While in San Francisco, the news became graver. “I knew I had to get back,” he continues. “On the plane everyone was wearing these kind of beekeeper suits. I didn’t know the extent of what was going on. We thought it was an internal Chinese problem.” 

Bruce’s business, teaching high level golf to young, promising, rising stars, had to close when he returned.  

Jubby, by then in northern Thailand with her family and distraught by the news swelling around them, needed to return to her husband 

“I booked a flight and then they said they had to cancel. Everyone outside of China was not allowed to enter. I was trying to get back every single way. The kids had a visa [they have dual nationality] but mine expired so they could go, but without me, she laughs incredulously. 

“They were saying so many different things. I can go. They can’t go. They can go. I can’t go. I was so stressed. Everything was so disappointing.” 

“And this went on for six months, then a year, then a year-and-a-half,” says Bruce solemnly. “We decided the only way we could be a family was to fly to England and meet here.” 

Even that wasn’t simple. 

“Thailand became a ‘red zone’ so Jubby had to drive a long way, a really long way, to Phuket to get a visa for herself just to be able to fly here.” 

It was, Jubby says, “crazy”, especially with small children in tow. 

“The whole thing was hard,” Bruce adds. “When I left, my kids were three-and-a-half. They didn’t understand where I was. They’d see an aeroplane in the sky and say ‘is that daddy?’.” 

“In Thailand, where we were, there was only one white guy in the village. My son would say ‘is that my dad? Can he play with me?,” says Jubby, adding that if they couldn’t be together soon, she feared their marriage would be over. 

“What kept me going,” says Bruce, “was thinking that there were so many other people worse off. I had a business. The kids were swimming every day. We hadn’t lost anyone.” 

Jubby landed in the UK last summer, followed by her husband, who was only allowed to travel with a 30kg bag. The couple have a house they rent out in Hadleigh, which was tenanted, so, with limited options, had to live with Bruce’s sister in her conservatory. 

“We all slept in there for two months. We put in a cheap bed, and had no curtains. It was seriously hard to get to sleep. But my plan was to be here for three months – my business needed me back.” 

Unfortunately, the children would only be accepted, says Bruce, with Chinese vaccinations. It was time, they both knew, to rethink their futures. 

“I couldn’t go back,” he says. “My kids would have been so confused. They’d been in about five schools since we’d been apart and they needed stability... to be with their mum and their dad. We’ve found them a nice school here, they’ve made great friends. They love it here, so we had to make it work.” 

Jubby didn’t find it so easy. “When I moved here I was quite miserable,” she admits. “I had no job for two years, and I’m a hard-working person. A workaholic. When we came here I thought ‘what can I do?’.” 

She volunteered to teach, but Jubby’s qualifications aren’t relevant in the UK. “I wanted to be independent.” 

Friends from Asia had set up a restaurant in Shrewsbury in recent times. After visiting, and seeing how they’d made a success of it, Jubby got to wondering “what if I make Thai food in Hadleigh?”. 

Jubby's chicken satay

Jubby's chicken satay - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Jubby Whitehead is a traditional Thai cook PIcture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Jubby's spring rolls are a bestseller - Credit: Charlotte Bond

“There’s nothing like it here. I would go around asking people if they’d tried real Thai food, and if they liked it. Then a friend asked me to cook for their birthday.” 

It was a resounding success. Guests at the event couldn’t get enough, asking when they could get their mitts on the burgeoning chef’s food again. 

Feeling there might be something in a takeaway business, giving a true reflection of her culture’s cuisine, Jubby perfected her recipes, found sources for her hard-to-find ingredients, registered her kitchen with Babergh, and took a hygiene course. 

And those who’ve sampled her food, be it at Hadleigh Market, takeaways from her kitchen, or one of the many pop-ups she’s held, say they love it. 

“I cook with a passion,” Jubby smiles. “And I make sure my food is healthy as well. Not oily. People really seem to like what I cook. They can see it’s fresh. I have a lot of good feedback and that’s made me feel great. If I’m going to be here, I want to be involved in doing something for the community. I felt so bad when we moved here. I felt I had no value. My options were limited. Whatever certificates I had in my life didn’t count. But I had my cooking, and no one could take that away from me.” 

It’s clear, from the way she lights up talking, Jubby is enjoying the path fate has led her down. 

Her best-selling dishes are pad Thai, made with flat noodles in a sweet/savoury/spicy sauce, with chicken or prawns and a freshly fried egg nested on top. Then there are the crispy vegetable, pork or chicken spring rolls, which are very special indeed. 

There’s satay. Thai salads. Prawn toasts. And massaman, yellow and green Thai curries, which can be as hot as you like. 

Orders can currently only be made via Jubby’s Facebook page (see Real Thai Food in Hadleigh), with a day’s notice (if possible) required for orders on Weekend evenings. Delivery in the Hadleigh area is free for spends over £30, otherwise diners have the option to collect. 

Are there plans for a Thai restaurant in Hadleigh? 

Currently the answer is no... but not never. “We’d like to get a unit in the future,” Bruce says, adding their next step is a street food trailer to make events easier. 

“I’m enjoying life now, doing this,” Jubby smiles, with Bruce adding. “At least we can see each other every day. That’s the most important thing. I can wake up and take the kids to school, take them to feed the ducks, show them all the things I used to love as a kid. Golf is my passion and what I’m good at, but to be with my family? I’d work as a dishwasher.”