Once upon a time, two girls met at a high school in a West Central province of Thailand called Nakhon Sawan. Fast forward to the early 2000s, and the two young women each found themselves in West Central Alabama. One came for business school at the University of Alabama; the other for a masters in Comparative Law at Samford. Reconnected, their friendship turned into a business venture, and in 2007 the pair purchased Chai Market, the oldest Asian market in Birmingham.
Fast forward a decade later and and Kay Sathianphatthanakul Golf Suchodayon have opened their newest venture: Yum Yai Takeout. Located next to the market, which they have since sold, Yum Yai offers quick takeout, as well as a dine-in area, featuring the dishes that they grew up eating in Nakson Sawan.
“This is what Thai food should taste like,” Kay says. “It’s simple and clean, not complicated.” She cooks much of the food, using recipes that she learned from her mother. Customers order at the counter and are served their meals quickly. It’s a streamlined business model that the duo spent time refining, one they believe fills a hole in the market.
“With other Thai restaurants in town you have to park and wait for a bartender to get your meal,” Golf says. “Here you can call ahead or order right here and the food comes quickly and good, and at an affordable price.” She says that during the years she and Kay owned Chai’s, they catered to a growing number of clientele who were becoming more knowledgeable about various Asian cuisines, especially Thai. Among their customers: ESL teachers and missionaries who were fluent in Thai, as well as business travelers who had been exposed to Thai food outside of Birmingham.
There were requests for more ingredients and cooking classes. Eventually the duo decided to experiment with pop-up events at Cahaba Brewing. Finding audiences receptive, they moved forward with securing space at 2131 7th Avenue. On October 13, they opened, receiving a steady stream of business from long-time customers and new diners.
“The time is right in Birmingham for this,” Golf says. “When we first bought the market there was hardly any traffic after 6 p.m. Now that’s all changed,” she says. Within walking distance of UAB, they get foot traffic from the university, as well as visitors from Lakeview and other parts of downtown. (Note: there is metered parking directly outside.)
Golf and Kay describe the menu as one filled with the dishes they cook at home, incorporating sauces from Thailand and slightly adapted to the American palate. They sell a lot of Pad Thai, which was the first thing we ordered when we visited. Portions are generous, and the weekday lunch special comes with a fried vegetable spring roll. (They also are becoming known for their Crispy Pad Thai, a dish of Nakhon Sawan, in which chantaboon rice noodles are replaced with fried wontons. Pictured here is the regular Pad Thai.)
The sauces on the table are the same ones you’d find at a Thai street market, like the Squid Brand fish sauce, which Kay describes as “The stinkiest fish sauce around.” In a good way, of course.
The Nam Sod is a perfect appetizer to share: minced chicken tossed in Thai style sweet and tangy dressing, with mint, onion, and lime:
The Spicy Basil Fried Rice features chicken and shrimp, bell peppers, sweet onions, green onions, peas and carrots, broccoli, and basil leaves. It should be noted that they use Chinese broccoli called Gai Lan. Golf and Kay source Asian vegetables, including buying them from a local woman who is a Cambodian refugee (when these veggies are in season).
They have also experimented with dishes with holy basil, and though none are currently on the menu, plan on adding it in in the future.
The Drunken Noodle features sauteed wide rice noodles in a spicy house sauce with bell peppers, mushrooms, snap bean cabbage, broccoli, baby corn, and basil. Delicious:
Topping things off, the The Thai Tea. It’s made with Brand Hand Tea, just as you would find served at a Thai street market, Golf says:
Yum Yai also features curries (Penang Curry and Massamun Curry) as well as Wok dishes (Spicy Cashew Nuts and Spicy Basil Leaves). There’s a sizable list of lunch specials served between 11 a.m. and 2:30 . They are closed between 2:30 and 4:30, opening up then for dinner till 8:30. Also closed on Sunday too — so take note. You can call ahead, or order via their site. They also offer delivery via Waitr and Grubhub.
The plan pair on adding specials in the coming months, as well as adding new menus items like papaya salad and Thai Noodle soup.
“We want to offer good food at a good price and be that place where people can come to eat two or three times a week,” Golf says. “We’re not fancy, but make good food. And the people of Birmingham have given us such a warm welcome.”
Kay adds, “When you eat good food you feel happy. That’s what we want to bring to our customers.”
Yum Yai is located at 2131 7th Avenue South, Birmingham, 35233. (205)323-0030.