Restaurateur Andy Ricker’s famed Portland restaurant group Pok Pok, known for its Thai “street food” and Northern Thai dishes, is massively downsizing. According to an Instagram announcement, every Portland store except the original Pok Pok location on SE Division Street and, potentially, Pok Pok Wing in Southeast, will close permanently.
Ricker announced the news today on his personal Instagram account, saying Pok Pok NW, cocktail bar and Thai restaurant Whiskey Soda Lounge, and the Northeast and Southwest locations of Pok Pok Wing — a casual restaurant group focusing on Pok Pok’s iconic Vietnamese fish sauce wings — would all be closing. The choice was made to focus on the potential reopening of the original Pok Pok down the road, though Ricker writes that “It is not clear when that might happen.” The post describes the financial and practical hurdles that face reopening multiple restaurants in accordance with the state’s phase one and phase two requirements.
Ricker opened the original Pok Pok in 2005, specializing in the Thai food he ate while visiting Thailand, in particular Chiang Mai. The restaurant started as a small takeout shack, eventually growing into a full-blown restaurant garnering two-hour waits. Over the years, the restaurant accrued national buzz and praise, from the New York Times to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Ricker won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest for his work at Pok Pok in 2011.
The opening of Whiskey Soda Lounge down the street in 2009 was a crucial moment for Pok Pok, ushering in the trend of the “waiting room” bar or lounge near the big-name restaurant. In the early days, many Portlanders would skip checking in at Pok Pok altogether, walking over to Whiskey Soda Lounge for drinking vinegars and Ike’s Famous Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, a recipe taught to Ricker by his first employee, Ike Truong. The popularity of those wings inspired an entire spinoff to the Pok Pok brand with Pok Pok Wing, a fast-casual alternative to Pok Pok that specialized in those sticky-fried chicken wings.
In his second decade as a restaurateur, Ricker has watched a handful of his restaurants close, including Pok Pok relatives in cities like Los Angeles and New York, as well as local noodle house Sen Yai. The chef and owner decided to focus to Portland, excluding a Pok Pok Wing location in the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. He expanded the Pok Pok Wing brand into two new locations, and in December 2019, opened a small, supper-club-style restaurant in the mezzanine of Pok Pok NW called Ping Yang Pow. Simultaneously, Ricker has developed his own lines of everything from flavored cordials to charcoal logs.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, Ricker attempted to keep the various Pok Pok locations open for takeout and delivery. It wasn’t until the death of New York chef Floyd Cardoz, who reportedly died of coronavirus, that he decided to close down all of his restaurants temporarily. “The fact is, there is no way to 100 percent safely deploy a crew of workers to operate a restaurant kitchen for delivery and to go as we have been doing for the last week,” he said in a statement in late March. Based on his public response, it seems Ricker does not believe much has changed, and does not see much changing for the foreseeable future.
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This news is not easy to break, but things are broken. I prefer to think of all this as a grand reset. Restaurants come, restaurants go and after all, they are just restaurants and this news pales in importance to the fight to stop systemic racism and police brutality in this country. Stay focused, stay safe, it’s a long way to the finish line. Su su na khrap!
Pok Pok is still selling meal kits through its website. This story will be updated with more information.