From Thailand, with love


Audra Kincart/Iowa State Daily

Punwasa Chaothanakit (L), owner of Thai Kitchen, and Supunsa Bastin (R), manager of the restaurant, pose for a photo at the register.

Audra Kincart

Eight thousand miles from Thailand, Thai food is the reason Punwasa Chaothanakit remains in Iowa.

Chaothanakit, owner of Thai Kitchen, and best friend turned manager Supunsa Bastin share their journey from Thailand to Iowa.

“Authentic Thai food will be gone if this restaurant isn’t here,” Chaothanakit said.

Chaothanakit has been running Thai Kitchen for more than a year. The owners of Thai Kitchen before Chaothanakit bought the business were retiring to Thailand and going to sell the restaurant to Malaysians.

With the combination of Chaothanakit’s love for cooking and her desire to keep the Thai presence in Campustown, Chaothanakit bought Thai Kitchen.

“Actually, I didn’t want to move here,” Chaothanakit said.

Chaothanakit decided to come to Ames after persuasion from her brother. He was attending Iowa State and convinced Chaothanakit to come with him after visiting Thailand on a break.

Chaothanakit’s parents want her to move home to Thailand but know since she’s running the business she won’t be back for a while.

Chaothanakit has plans for the future of Thai Kitchen. She said with the previous owners, there was an air of being part of a family in the restaurant. She said she would like to instill that feeling into the atmosphere again.

“Because it was ran really well, customers loved it here,” Punwasa said. “Good food, good service.”

Chaothanakit received her bachelor’s degree in interior design at the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and was enrolled in the master’s program at Iowa State for interior design before leaving to run Thai Kitchen.

“Interior is having the details to create … more beauty,” Chaothanakit said.

Chaothanakit plans to use her background in interior design to make improvements to the building. The first set of major changes was improving the equipment in the kitchen, and Chaothanakit is now focusing on the environment in the lobby.

Chaothanakit said the lighting is too bright in Thai Kitchen, adding that she would like to make it softer. On top of this, Chaothanakit also wants to improve the outside design.

One of the hardest aspects of running Thai Kitchen is finding “five people who are in the right job,” Chaothanakit said.

Chaothanakit said she has people who want to work at the restaurant but don’t necessarily meet the outgoing standards a restaurant demands.

Chaothanokit also faced obstacles transitioning to the Iowan culture.

“The hardest [thing to get used to] is talking to an American person,” Chaothanakit said, “It’s a good thing I work here and have to contact every person who comes through.”

At first, Chaothanakit found it difficult to go up and ask, “Hi, how are you?” but “people here are so nice,” she said.

“You have a mix, just because there are ethnic restaurants doesn’t mean they are populated with ethnic people,” said David Swenson, associate scientist of economics.

Chaothanakit said running Thai Kitchen would not be possible without the help of her friend, Supunsa Bastin.

Bastin followed her husband to Ames after he was accepted into the doctoral program for genetics at Iowa State, and she helped Chaothanakit settle into the city.

While Bastin’s husband was at school, she worked at McDonald’s on Duff Avenue as a manager. That job lasted five years.

Bastin knew the ins and outs of restaurant management and felt a pull to the job.

“I need to work for my friends,” Bastin said.

Aside from the restaurant, Bastin found the adjustments to the language and weather the hardest aspects of the move to Iowa.

However, working with her friend has made the transition worth it.