Located in the heart of Downtown Berkeley, off the corner of University Avenue and Shattuck Avenue, lies Imm Thai Street Food, a lively yet cozy little restaurant. “It’s just so warm and busy and you can smell the food from the street. The atmosphere is just very warm and friendly and encouraging and the people are always lining up on the street,” said Norrie White, a senior in Academic Choice (AC).
Aya Amornpan, the chief financial officer and general manager of Imm Thai Street Food, and her husband, Note Boon, both came to the US as international students from Bangkok.
“We wanted to provide [Berkeley with] real Thai food, you know, the authentic Thai which we grew up eating,”Aya Amornpan, Imm Thai General Manager
The couple always knew they were going to open a restaurant. “My husband is a chef. He used to work in a Thai restaurant in LA and then we came here to the Bay Area [where] he worked in a Japanese restaurant,” said Amornpan. Amornpan attended business school at University of California (UC) Berkeley Extension, right down the street from where Imm is located.
It was a difficult process for the couple to get a permit to open the restaurant. “There’s a lot of laws and regulations to follow to operate one business, especially with food. You have to deal with the health department [and] the city. It’s hard but it’s possible,” said Amornpan.
Imm opened in August of 2014 and was immediately “welcomed by the students who came from all around the world, especially Asian students,” said Amornpan. Located so close to the UC Berkeley campus, the restaurant attracts a lot of students seeking authentic Thai street food. Walking by the place, you are bound to see a small group of twenty-somethings waiting outside to pick up takeout.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is undoubtedly charming and especially appealing to youth. Reclaimed wooden tables populate the room, studded with red metal chairs. Most of the space, however, is taken up by the kitchen, where you can see the chefs at work. “Most other Thai restaurants in the area have a very calm, almost formal feel to them. Imm is just very loud and bustling and it’s decorated very differently from other places,” said White.
While some prefer a formal dining experience, the crowded restaurant is a comfort to others. “It’s like a pretty close-quarters restaurant. So like, I wouldn’t say you feel like a community, but there’s like a bunch of people there and they’re all having a good time,” said Sol De Urgate, a junior in AC.
Although the food might seem a little pricey for high school students, you get a lot of bang for your buck. “It’s more of like a Berkeley restaurant in [the sense that] they [make] really high quality food,” said Rylyn Jaggar, a junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS).
Imm provides “Thai cuisine consistent with traditional Thai roots, while at the same time adding their own unique and bold flare 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 multitude of Berkeley restaurants to close, but Imm managed to stay in business and support their employees. “It’s not only us, but it’s the employees and their families too that we have to take care of. We tried to not lay off our [employees] … It was hard. But we got a lot of help from the residents here, a lot of families supported the business to [help us] survive during the pandemic. We just want to thank all of them. [They’re] not only [helping] us, but also all the employees,” said Amornpan.
Imm Thai Street Food is fully operating now, with indoor as well as outdoor seating. Although there are still those who prefer takeout, the restaurant is full of people gathering, chatting, and eating delicious food.
“We love to make you full. [Imm] actually means full in Thai,” said Amornpan.