The phrase "end of an era" has perhaps been overused the past few months, but in this case, it's especially appropriate: Pok Pok is no more.
This morning, owner Andy Ricker announced he will be closing the last remaining outposts of his Thai food empire, including the brand's flagship location on Southeast Division Street.
Ricker had previously shuttered four of his other Portland properties earlier in 2020, leaving only the original restaurant and the Pok Pok Wing in Southeast Portland, though both remained shut down due to the pandemic.
Now, those two are gone for good as well—or, as Ricker put it in on Instagram, "dunzo, kaput, pit moht laew."
"I swore when Pok Pok opened that if it ever reached the point where it was all about profit and loss, I would shut it down and walk away," he wrote in a post titled "A Farewell to Pok Pok." "I have far too much respect and love for the food and culture of Thailand for it to be solely about the commercial aspects of the business. Fuck that. So when COVID made it ALL about the bottom line that was my cue to pull the plug."
Ricker opened the original Pok Pok at 3226 SE Division St. in 2005, introducing Portland to the cuisine of North Thailand. It grew into one of Portland's most popular restaurants, achieving national acclaim and winning Ricker a James Beard Award in 2011. His signature Vietnamese fish sauce wings are among the city's most iconic dishes―WW named it one of the "12 Wonders of Portland Food" in 2015.
Attempts to expand into New York and Los Angeles were less successful, closing after only a few years, but the Pok Pok brand became ubiquitous in Portland, spinning off into four fast-casual variations and a bar, Whiskey Soda Lounge.
In June, Ricker closed all but the original restaurant and a single Pok Pok Wing location, citing financial strain from the state-mandated COVID-19 business closures. He wrote then that the move was made to give the flagship location a chance of survival.
Today, though, Ricker wrote that there is "[n]o sense going deeper into debt in order to survive."
"Holding onto hope for some sort of resurrection post COVID was so tempting because that is what we do…we keep going, no matter what, until it is impossible to do so (often far too long after it is wise to do so)," he wrote. "But I know when I am licked. And I am licked."
Ricker writes that the other restaurants "have been transferred to new operators or returned to landlords." (Whiskey Soda Lounge, once the de facto waiting room for the original Pok Pok, is now occupied by Gado Gado spinoff Oma's Takeaway.) The flagship property, meanwhile, is for sale, "lock, stock and (literal) fish sauce barrel."
As for Ricker, he is currently in Thailand, in a village outside Chiang Mai, where he was already spending part of the year. He plans on staying there permanently.
"[I]t is an exciting time to be here to witness younger Thai chefs moving their cuisine into the 21st century with skill, care and a sense of history," he wrote. "To be here for it, watching and peripherally involved, is both a joy and an honor."