The flower shop came first. Then the Ping-Pong parlor. And finally, the U-Haul rental. The way Ardy Taveerasert (aka Mr. Ping Pong) tells it, he married Mrs. Flower (aka Anne), owner of the flower store. He'd played Ping-Pong as a young boy in Thailand, and thought it might be a good addition to the business. "You have to be unique in order to survive and have fun," he explains. They needed U-Hauls to move the tables.
Lately there's been much greater interest in moving equipment and Ping-Pong than in flowers. "Worldwide, the biggest market for Ping-Pong is the U.S," Taveerasert says. "In other countries, less people buy [tables], but more play. In the U.S., more people buy, but they're not that good."
Mr. Ping Pong has open-play hours every evening, with players of varying ages, abilities, and languages. Taveerasert offers private and group lessons. He trained Jennifer Connelly's body double for the movie The Dilemma. (Costar Vince Vaughn also came in to play, but Taveerasert gives him a thumbs-down.) And Mr. Ping Pong's fame has spread worldwide: recently he got an e-mail from a woman in Japan who was planning her first-ever trip to the U.S. She wants to spend it in Chicago playing Ping-Pong.