One of the biggest names in contemporary Thai food, Pok Pok, is saying "bye-bye" to L.A. The Chinatown restaurant will open for its last service (and final plate of those famous chicken wings) on March 21.
James Beard Award-lauded chef Andy Ricker announced the closure this morning. While it’s certainly a blow to the local dining community, the shutter doesn’t come as a total surprise. The smaller Pok Pok Phat Thai noodle stand closed back in August and things had looked rocky for the full-service dining room as well.
In a November interview, Ricker admitted that the restaurant had never operated profitably since debuting in late 2015. After his successful ventures in Portland, Ore., and New York, Ricker was apparently caught somewhat off guard by navigating the tricky waters of the L.A. food scene. Questions were raised in the media and by customers about a white man from Oregon trying to gain attention for serving Thai food when there is already such an abundance of great Thai cuisine available here, regardless of how he attempted to distinguish his kitchen’s particular take on the fare.
And then there was what he called “free rice syndrome”—his term for a problem many chefs and restaurants encounter as they try to elevate so-called "ethnic" cuisines to fine-dining standards. Diners have become accustomed to a basic takeout curry costing just a few dollars and may have stayed away from Pok Pok’s slightly (though by no means drastically) higher price point, even though Pok Pok’s extensively researched regional recipes demanded sophisticated technique and high-quality ingredients, on top of high Downtown rent prices and higher wages for workers.
“Bottom line is that we are not making it financially and it is not sustainable to be in this position. Our main concern at this point is to try and help place the folks on our team who have worked so hard and tried to make a solid go of it. We plan to finish strong and with dignity and maybe get to serve some of the folks who have come through on the regular one more time,” Ricker wrote in a statement.
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