American Made

Two young women pursue the American dream by purchasing an old-world Asian grocery.

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Chai’s Grocery has stood at the corner of 22nd Street South and 7th Avenue for 42 years now; the last five under the ownership of two young Asian women who found in the old–world grocery a hope for their future in an adopted country.

Buntharika Suchodayon (known by her nickname, Golf) and Anuthida Sathianphathanakul (known as Kay) bought Chai’s Grocery from the original owner about five years ago. It was an unexpected move for both young women.

Golf came to Birmingham in 2005. A lawyer in her native Thailand, she came to the city to study at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. Kay came to live in the U.S. two years later in 2007, as a student at the University of Alabama. She had been for the previous five years a flight attendant with a Thai airline.

“I was a customer of Mr. Chai,” Golf says. “One day he said he might want to sell the store. So I began to think that perhaps this would be a good business to own. It was popular with the Asian community and had plenty of customers.”

Golf and Kay pooled their resources and bought the business.

As the new owners of a traditional Chinese grocery store right in the heart of Birmingham’s Southside, the pair began making their mark on the store.

They focused on developing the inventory of the store to accommodate products from not only China, but from India, Japan, their native Thailand, and even Africa.

They redesigned the space to make it more appealing to Americans and began stocking new products, employing better organization throughout the store. While the move has been risky financially, Golf says business ownership has been exciting with a profound sense of both freedom and responsibility. The two busines partners would not have it any other way.

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