How an Engineer Became Chef to the Stars

How an Engineer Became Chef to the Stars

Nestled on a busy Westwood street corner, Emporium Thai is an oasis for the weary and the hungry. Stepping inside, an immediate feeling of tranquility washes over as co-owner John Sungkamee greets each customer with a wave and a warm smile. It’s no surprise that this family operation has made waves in the area with a winning combination of thoughtful hospitality and delicious food.

Emporium Thai’s L.A. story began in 1990, when John’s mother, Supis Sungkamee, relocated from Southern Thailand to California with her 12 children in tow. Eager to find work, John and his siblings opened the restaurant together in 2000, cooking the food that they grew up enjoying around their kitchen table. We sat down with John, software engineer turned restaurant owner, to learn how this humble family business became a celebrity hotspot.

Emporium Thai's Classic Thai Meal

CaterCow: Have you always been interested in food and cooking?

John:  Food and cooking have always been part of my journey, ever since I can remember. My parents would cook dinner for our big family every night. Working as a software engineer by day, I would come to the restaurant at night to support my family as much as I could. Things really took off in 2013 when I quit my job in order to take Emporium Thai to the next level.

CC: What are the biggest challenges you have faced in growing Emporium Thai?

JS: Finding the right team. It took years to create the great dynamic that we have now. Restaurant jobs are hard work so people usually come and go. I'm thankful that we have the team to support my vision and that they all try their best to make the customers’ experience as memorable as possible.

Recently, Emporium Thai got a huge Instagram shoutout from a loyal customer: Cardi B!

John poses with his new friend, Cardi B. (source: @emporiumthai Instagram)

JS: This is definitely a highlight and I'm speechless that Cardi B visited us! The first time I met her bodyguard, he said Cardi B is very picky and she really loves my restaurant. She was kind enough to take pictures with me and she even posted about her favorite dishes on Instagram. Because of that, so many teens from all over L.A. have visited us for Mango Sticky Rice, which we now call ‘Cardi B. Mango’! I'm just so grateful that I got to meet her. This year alone, other celebs like Willow Smith, Lupita Nyong'o, John Cleese and Benicio del Toro, Akon and more have visited the restaurant. Check out ‘#EmporiumThai’ on Instagram to see who has stopped by!

CC: What is the vision for Emporium Thai as you continue growing and serving the L.A. community?

Our motto is simple: "we do small things with great love." My vision is to make sure our guests have the best experience, where they will have no choice but to tell their loved ones about us. We are also focusing on growing the catering business. We source the best ingredients we can find and love supporting other local businesses through our work. I'm just absolutely thrilled and thankful for what we have accomplished so far.

The perfect office lunch!

March of 2020 will mark 20 years in the industry for Emporium Thai. John believes this is just the beginning for the team. Check out the food everyone is raving about here!