Unlike many of the great restaurants that reside on the town of Amherst’s main street, Ricelicious is nestled in the inner part of the block, behind several other eateries. Though tucked away from plain sight, this hidden gem is home to an admirable entrepreneurial story of a Thai immigrant who worked his way up to becoming the owner of a fusion Asian restaurant in America.
When Ricelious co-owner Pote was in his early 20s, he had a real thing for Japanese food and culture. He went all-in and majored in Japanese at Ramkhamhaeng University while getting a mass-communications degree at Assumption Business Administration College in Bangkok. After he graduated, he spent two years working in Japan.
During his stint in Japan, Pote learned to spot the tiniest differences between his native grub and Japanese cuisine. According to Pote, while both gastronomies are anchored on steamed rice, soy sauce and the sharp kick of wasabi take the cake in Japan, while Thai culinary tradition is all about heat.
“The kind of Thai spicy is the same as the kind of Vietnamese spicy, which uses chili,” Pote said. “Meanwhile, for Japanese, the spicy is not the same. It’s wasabi.”
As a native Thai, Pote found preparing Japanese dishes a tough nut to crack, but he kept experimenting. “I took a bit of this and a bit of that and mixed them all up.” When people told Pote they liked what they ate, Pote knew his trial hit the spot.
After returning to Bangkok from Japan, Pote landed a job at a local hotel where he crossed paths with a colleague who went on to become the love of his life. In 2008, four years later, he left to take care of his newborn niece in the United States at the request of his mom, temporarily leaving his girlfriend behind.
Once he touched down in Massachusetts, Pote started working for a Thai restaurant, followed by a Vietnamese restaurant, a Korean restaurant, and many other places. “Whatever that got us the money,” Pote said. From serving to driving to cooking, Pote took on many jobs just to make ends meet.
In 2011, he ended up at a fusion restaurant that blended Korean and Japanese cuisine. There, he experimented with food in his free time, using YouTube videos as his guide. Reflecting on his earlier learning days, Pote found himself constantly learning and developing his recipe, slowly by taking the best parts of different dishes and mixing them together.
“I make some choices [to determine] which part is good for me,” he said. “If I like it, I will keep it for later and mix them all together.”
Pote confessed his fondness for eating good food, and he would spend his saved money at different places. Whenever he encountered a dish that he fancied, he would try to register the taste to his brain and recreate the the closest version back at home.
Three years later, his girlfriend finally joined him in the U.S. Pote wandered from one spot to another within Massachusetts, hitting everywhere from Boston to Springfield. While in Cambridge, a renowned academic hub densely populated by students, he worked as a server at a bustling eatery. “It’s not like all-year busy,” said Pote. Based on his observation, he thought of Amherst having the same situation. All points considered, Pault thought he could earn a better living if he opened a restaurant in Amherst.
He married his longtime girlfriend in 2019 and decided it was time to open his own restaurant. He asked his sister, who runs Taste Thai, about a place that was available for lease, and she quickly pointed him to a location in the area, right behind her restaurant.
Pote’s wife is the mastermind behind the restaurant’s name. “Maybe she named it like that because we save a lot of rice,” he laughed.
Pote moved to Amherst in 2021. At the time, he faced a challenging process of getting his license to operate the restaurant. “We came here in September 2021, two months prior to our opening. We cleaned everything and had to wait for inspections from different departments. Fire inspection, building inspection, and building inspection.” There were so many inspections that he could barely keep track of them all. It was a trying time for both Pote and his wife as they had to commute between Boston and Amherst during this time.
Finally, after the last hood inspection was complete on Dec. 4, they moved in the next day, and opened the restaurant on Dec. 6. Besides his wife, Pote’s sister was a big help, assisting with everything from cooking rice to preparing ingredients. “We helped each other out a lot.”
His sister often drops by his place to check in on everything. Pote disclosed that his sister, brother-in-law, and niece (the sister and the brother-in-law’s daughter) had become the Ricelicious’s business partners earlier in 2022.
A year in business taught Pote and his wife ample lessons. In Cambridge, he had a steady flow of customers, including tourists, but in Amherst, the only source of guests were students, and the population of residents was not as dense as that of Cambridge.
Yet, life in Amherst sometimes made Pote nostalgic about Boston. “Everything seems to be extreme here. When it is 25 degrees [Celsius] in Boston, it is 15 degrees in Amherst. And when it is 30 degrees in Boston, it gets even hotter here.” To Pote, Amherst always seems colder or hotter. There is no in between.
Despite the weather being more extreme in Amherst, Pote decided to stay because of the people, who he said were much nicer than those in Boston. “The people here are totally different. It’s not like people in Boston are not nice. But here, [people are] more nice,” Pote said, gesturing his hands to visualize the level of kindness Amherst people had shown him since day one.
In August 2022, Pote and his wife took to Ricelicious’s Facebook page to express gratitude towards Amherst College for generous orders for International Pre-Orientation day.
More importantly, with a kitchen of his own, Pote could now freely live his culinary dream, experimenting with ingredients of a wider array.
In terms of future goals, Pote hopes to expand his restaurant if all goes well, but for now, he takes great joy in improving the quality of his restaurant dishes while spending time with his wife. Now residing in Greenfield, the couple do everything together, including cooking and cleaning. Pote loves making omelets and hot and sour soup for his wife.
The restaurant is open six days a week, and during the day off, they go to Boston to buy cooking ingredients for the next week.
In terms of the restaurant’s signature dish, Pote likes the classic onsen buta, a mouth-watering combination of Japanese pork belly and soft-boiled egg served over rice, and also highlighted the honey lime chicken, which he feels represents their Korean inspiration.
In spite of his soft spot for Japan, when asked to speak a few sentences in Japanese, he chuckled with the brightest smile, “I don’t remember anything. I gave it back to the teachers.”
Like its owner’s story, Ricelicious is truly a diamond in the rough that is waiting to be discovered.