Located in the heart of downtown Berkeley, on the corner of University Avenue and Shattuck Avenue, is Imm Thai Street Food, a lively but cozy little restaurant. “It’s so hot and busy and you can smell the food from the street. The atmosphere is just very warm, friendly and encouraging and people are always lining up on the street, ”said Norrie White, senior at Academic Choice (AC).
Aya Amornpan, CFO and Managing Director of Imm Thai Street Food, and her husband, Note Boon, both came from Bangkok as international students to the United States.
“We wanted to offer [Berkeley with] real Thai food, you know, the authentic Thai that we grew up eating ”,
Aya Amornpan, Managing Director of Imm Thai
The couple always knew they were going to open a restaurant. “My husband is a cook. He was working at a Thai restaurant in LA and then we came here to the bay area. [where] he worked in a Japanese restaurant, ”Amornpan said. Amornpan attended the University of California (UC) Berkeley Extension School of Business, just down the street from where Imm is located.
It was a difficult process for the couple to obtain a permit to open the restaurant. “There are a lot of laws and regulations to follow in running a business, especially in the food industry. You have to deal with the health service [and] the city. It’s difficult but it’s possible, ”said Amornpan.
Imm opened in August 2014 and was immediately “welcomed by students from all over the world, especially Asian students,” Amornpan said. Located so close to the UC Berkeley campus, the restaurant attracts many students looking for authentic Thai street food. Passing by the place, you are bound to see a small group of twenty-some people waiting outside for take out.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is undoubtedly charming and particularly appealing to young people. Reclaimed wood tables populate the room, dotted with red metal chairs. Most of the space, however, is taken up by the kitchen, where you can see the chefs at work. “Most of the other Thai restaurants in the area have a very calm, almost formal atmosphere. Imm is just very noisy and busy and its decor is very different from other places, ”White said.
While some prefer a formal dining experience, the crowded restaurant is a solace for others. “It’s like a fairly close restaurant. So I wouldn’t say you feel like a community, but there’s like a bunch of people out there and they’re all having fun, ”said Sol De Urgate, a junior from AC.
While the food might seem a bit pricey for high school kids, you get what you pay for. “It looks more like a Berkeley restaurant in [the sense that] they or they [make] very high quality food, ”said Rylyn Jaggar, a junior at Berkeley International High School (BIHS).
Imm offers “Thai cuisine consistent with traditional Thai roots, while adding its own unique and daring touch to the food,” said Finn Talmon, a freshman at UC Davis who graduated from BHS in 2021. ” My favorite thing about Imm is the authenticity of the food and the generous portions they provide, ”said Talmon.
The pandemic has forced a slew of Berkeley restaurants to close, but Imm has managed to stay in business and support its employees. “It’s not just us, but it’s also the employees and their families that we need to take care of. We tried not to fire our [employees] … It was hard. But we have received a lot of help from the residents here, a lot of families have supported the company to [help us] survive during the pandemic. We just want to thank them all. [They’re] not only [helping] not only us, but also all the employees, ”said Amornpan.
Imm Thai Street Food is now fully operational, with indoor and outdoor seating. While there are still those who prefer take-out, the restaurant is full of people getting together, chatting and eating delicious food.
“We love to fill you up. [Imm] actually means full in Thai, ”Amornpan said.