Andy Ricker recently shared some of his early frustrations on opening up Pok Pok L.A. with Playboy. The glossy mag chats with the chef about why he dropped the Tock reservation system, the struggles of surviving as a small business in Los Angeles —especially in Chinatown — and the perception that Thai food needs to be cheap.
Here are five of the strongest lines from the piece:
L.A. is staring down the barrel of a wage revolution: "This is a huge conversation amongst the restaurant professionals and it’s been something that’s been really difficult for the public to grasp. But it really is something that is approaching crisis levels for the restaurant industry. We’re a very low-margin, a very thin-margin industry."
Why you can’t just raise the cost of your dishes to fix the wage issue: "The problem is, once you start raising prices past a certain point, you price yourself out of the market. People won’t go to your restaurant because you’re too expensive."
Tipping is hard to talk about publicly as a restaurant owner: "…most of the public looks at the restaurant industry as a place were the owners are getting rich on the back of the workers, which is really not true. I guess there are some circumstances of that, but this is all especially difficult for people in my sector."
And so is the cost of food: "We’re in this weird position where we’re considered Asian—and this goes for Mexican food, Chinese food, Vietnamese food, too—which has been relegated to being this very cheap commodity stuff. It’s become fetishized. So people are used to paying low, low prices for this stuff. So when you try to do it in a responsible way, you’re accused of ripping people off."
Despite it all, there’s still a market for people to discover his brand of Thai cooking: "The demographics of the United States have changed in the last 20 years. We’re not monocultural. A lot of college kids now aren’t like, oh, let’s go to McDonald’s and hang out. It’s like, let’s go to Koreatown and search out this new place that has this crazy soup that I’ve never had before. There’s a sense of adventure."
The whole article, which is long but really lets Ricker stretch his thoughts out in a great way, can be found here. It’s definitely worth the read, and hits on a lot of problems that are being discussed behind the scenes in kitchens across the city every night.