Jam Sanitchat moved from Thailand in 2001 to attend The University of Texas at Austin.
Since then, she has been accepted into a Ph.D. program, sold food at local farmers markets, taught cooking classes, forgone a career in communications, started a family and opened her own restaurant.
Thai Fresh, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary Aug. 6, is a casual restaurant and coffee shop tucked inside the Bouldin Creek neighborhood.
“I don’t have any professional food background,” Sanitchat said. “I’ve always been cooking as a home cook, helping my mom, feeding my roommates.”
As a graduate student she led cooking classes while considering a career in academia.
After deciding not to pursue a Ph.D. at UT, she began waiting tables at local restaurants, including Hoover’s Cooking, where she met her husband and business partner Bruce Barnes.
When Sanitchat had her child, she stopped waiting tables but continued to teach classes. A few years later Sanitchat felt ready to open her own restaurant.
Within its first three years in business, the Thai Fresh space has expanded twice.
More recently Sanitchat transitioned the restaurant from counter to table service and implemented a no-tipping policy. “The price that it says on the menu is what it costs to make this food,” she said.
Thai Fresh employees earn more than the Austin living wage, which is $14 an hour, as well as health insurance and paid sick leave.
Although it does cut into profit, turnover is lower and her employees are happier, she said.
Despite Austin’s growth Thai Fresh has remained a “super-casual” neighborhood restaurant supported by families in the area, Sanitchat said.
“You can only go so big being in a neighborhood,” she said. “It’s kind of nice that way.”
This fall, however, Thai Fresh will open an ice cream shop in East Austin, where it will sell vegan, coconut-milk flavors made from fresh, seasonal fruit.
“It kind of feels like here,” she said of the forthcoming location. “It’s neighborhood-y.”