Action and Updates on Busy South First

Editor’s Note: The following is a mash-up of stories followed by SJDA the past few months for Downtown Dimension.

Dine-in option now available at Angkor Chef

Kent and Channy Laux have officially opened Angkor Chef Cambodian restaurant, the newest addition to the South First Street block between Santa Clara and San Fernando streets where several more openings are in the works.

The Lauxs started operating in their space at 86 S. First St. in May as takeout-only, and took their time to get their interior look just right to build their brand. The couple decided early on in their business development to locate in downtown, they said, and used most of this year to get used to their surroundings and life on South First Street.

“We’re excited to be here and see different cuisine opening on this block,” said Kent Laux. “It’s starting to be the way we envisioned it.”

The pandemic provided the impetus for the Lauxs to open their first restaurant.  Prior to the pandemic, the couple had both worked as engineers for 30 years in Silicon Valley before deciding to start a specialty foods business 12 years ago called Angkor Food, selling Southeast Asian condiments, spices and sauces.

They served clients across the country including New York, Miami, Dallas, Chicago and the Bay Area, and planned to ramp it up to sell to larger food service operators in corporate and commercial cafeterias and universities in 2020.

“We had a bumper crop and expected a huge year when the calls suddenly stopped,” Kent said.

Needing to reduce their inventory and with piles of family recipes, the Lauxs started cooking from a ghost kitchen and sold meals through DoorDash and other delivery platforms – and their new Angkor Chef business was born. During the course of the pandemic, their new business grew to catering and corporate lunches, which they continue.

Angkor’s menu — prepared by Channy — includes classics including green papaya salad; Laab; and a plate called “Amok,” described as fresh fish fillets sliced and marinated in Channy’s award-winning lemongrass paste, sweet chili powder and coconut cream, baked in a handmade banana-leaf bowl.

The restaurant also includes street food dishes including beef skewers, noodles and pickled veggies. Lemongrass chicken is also a customer favorite. For the holidays, Channy has pumpkin pudding with Cambodian spices available. In addition, The owners just secured their wine and beer license.

The Lauxs also make Thai favorites and Angkor sauces including Kroeung Prawlak, lemongrass paste, Cambodian chili paste and tamarind sauce. Recipes accessed through the Angkor Chef website and QR codes on the spice bottles give customers the opportunity to make themselves the dishes on the menu, Channy said.

“Our goal has always been to share Cambodian food with everyone,” she said. “We show you how to use the ingredients in your home.” The Asian spice and sauce business operates from

More work on South First businesses underway

Also on the east side of the block, work continues on:

  • Angelou’s, which shut down its Second Street business at the end of November to make room for the development of senior housing residences, moves to 78 First St. and will add a bar and additional seating at its new location. Angelou’s owners Teresa (pictured) and Sergio Lopez may be next to open on the block.
  • Elyse Restaurant, featuring its French Vietnamese menu, moves from the Second Street side of The Pavilion to anchor the San Fernando corner at 96 S. First. Work is underway, but the opening date has not been announced;
  • Still OG – a rebooted Original Gravity Public House featuring a high-end sit-down “alter-ego” cocktail experience in the back of the bar at 66 S. First St., said Dan Phan, who co-owns the business with Johnny Wang and George Lahlouh. They also own Paper Plane a few doors down and Miniboss on Santa Clara Street — both hosting “miracle” holiday events, plus they are developing Eos & Nyx at 201 S. Second St. Still OG could open in early 2024.

These businesses join other already established First Street ground-level staples Tea AlleyInsomnia CookiesNomikaiThe TempleFuze Lounge and its current food provider Nash + Tender chicken, Concept barbershop, and Egghead Sando Cafe.

SJSU’s downtown integration continues:Urban planning students gain firsthand experience

San Jose State University waited through the pandemic to open a studio space in the downtown core for urban regional planning students.

“We needed to find a place to collaborate and hang things on a wall,” said Laxmi Ramasubramanian, department chair of urban and regional planning at SJSU.

The students share the space at 76 S. First St. with regional planning think-tank SPUR, which had vacated the space during the pandemic.

Ramasubramanian, whose urban and regional planning department also includes public administration, geography and geographic information science (GIS) programs, sees the perfect fit into the continuation of city-university relations started by the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joint library partnership, now in its 21st year.

The university has a three-year commitment on South First where they can hold small activities, meetings and panel discussions, many of which are open to the public so that ideas can be shared. The City of San Jose’s initiative to fill vacant spaces to aid downtown’s post-pandemic recovery also helped drive the creation of the shared space last spring.

“Urban and regional planning is a learn-by-doing department,” Ramasubramanian said. “What better place for students to learn than here in downtown, in a neutral spot that is off-campus and with SPUR, which is a great partner with a great track record?”

She’s positive the students will assist with downtown placemaking.

“The challenge is figuring out what we can do to make everyone love downtown the same way all of us already here in downtown do,” she said.

Looking forward to when the block is fully activated

The newcomers to the block all expressed excitement about the block’s transition toward vitality.

“The street has a good vibe,” Channy Laux said.  “There are a lot of people and places to walk to.  There’s a sense of community starting to happen, which is very encouraging.”
San Jose State students are wrapping up their first semester of working on urban and regional planning projects inside the storefront at 76 S. First St.

Pandemic’s ‘Silver Lining’: Entrepreneurs follow dreams, pivot, and open for themselves in DTSJ

Covid caused a lot of people to think about their lives and to change direction.

Some of the businesses emanating from the pandemic as a result of entrepreneurial spirit and the passion to follow dreams are:

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