“When your restaurant is closing, Eater will write ‘oh, Pok Pok is dunzo’ — The Shutter, right? — and for about three days afterwards people will pop up out of the woodwork and say they saw it coming, or that it was a shame.”
Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker wrote this in a gut-spilling piece on Eater LA last year. Today, his premonition came true, when Eater broke the news that after a hard-fought, two-year battle, the L.A. branch of his hyper-authentic Thai restaurant is closing on March 21.
Ricker was right, of course. It is a shame. And we did see it coming. Pok Pok made the fatal mistake of using quality ingredients and labor-intensive methods to cook a cuisine that most people in L.A feel they can get for half the price. He did so in a restaurant that was probably too big in a part of town where people don’t really go for dinner—all while paying a living wage to his workers. Oh, and being white.
If you haven’t heard, Pok Pok LA is closing up Tuesday, March 21st. It’s been a pleasure being a part of the LA food community and of course LA’s Chinatown. We’re still open with regular hours and having our final service Tuesday night – come through if you can. Thanks to @eater_la @overoverunder & @mattatouille for the nice write-ups and thanks to all our fans for your support! / photo by @wonhophoto #pokpokla
And while those fish sauce-glazed chicken wings are seriously worth mourning, the most tragic—and ultimately heroic—part of this whole story is that Ricker himself knew it. He literally called out, point by point, all of those flaws in that 2016 Eater piece. He was aware of the problems, but he kept at it anyway. But why? Is he stubborn? Stupid? Drunk on nitrogen-frozen beer and rice whisky? No, it’s because all of those little expensive decisions—from hand-squeezing the coconut milk, to using good quality poultry, to enforcing a 5 percent service fee, to being ambitious and pioneering in his choice of real estate—were the right things to do. Business suicide? Sure. But right. And Ricker is just the type of guy who can’t do anything less.
That he did not go blindly into the night is what ultimately makes Pok Pok’s closure a triumph. He didn’t back down. He never surrendered. OK, yes, he’s closing up shop, but only because not doing so would have required him to compromise his integrity. And Andy Ricker don’t play that.
So, while we’re all looking for a new place to get our smoked catfish and Singha slushie fix, let’s also take a moment to give a big, dramatic, totally earnest slow clap for chef-restaurateur Andy Ricker. Because, y’know, integrity.
(But for reals though, guys, he has a really successful restaurant in Portland and is going to be fine. And if you really need some Pok Pok that badly, Portland is like a two-and-a-half-hour flight away. Cheers.)
Lesley Bargar Suter is the Food Editor at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @LesleyBS and Instagram. She wrote: Refugees Are Behind This Inspiring New L.A. Supper Club.