New York is losing yet another one of its top Thai restaurants. Taladwat, the ambitious Hell’s Kitchen spot lauded by New Yorker and Eater critics, closed on Sunday after less than two years of service.
Co-owner Brian Ghaw said during a phone interview the restaurant wasn’t sustainable long term, citing a falloff in Theater District dining — Broadway shows won’t return until next year — and the uncertain prospects for indoor dining. About 30 people will be laid off.
The restaurant opened in late 2018 on a stretch of Ninth Avenue known for its myriad Thai establishments. What distinguished Taladwat was its chef, the Ratchaburi-born David Bank, whose uncompromising Pure Thai Cookhouse has long remained one of the neighborhood’s most crowded Southeast Asian noodle spots.
Taladwat offered what it called a “community potluck” style of dining where each patron would order two courses for $22; those dishes were served simultaneously and meant to be shared as a spread on picnic-style benches.
The menu showcased dishes from Thailand’s Central, Western, and Southern regions. Two recent takeout meals during the pandemic showed a restaurant in peak form, with wobbly cubes of pork belly sitting in a sweet soy broth and piles of dark meat chicken hanging out in warm baths of turmeric-laced coconut milk.
Taladwat “deserves to be mentioned alongside Somtum Der, Sripraphai, Ugly Baby, Uncle Boons, and others as one of the city’s top purveyors of Thai fare,” I wrote in a short review last year. That list of venues, alas, is getting shorter. The Michelin-starred Uncle Boons permanently closed earlier this month after the owners couldn’t come to an agreement with their landlord.
“Our landlord, believe it or not, has been pretty flexible; they’ve been great with the whole process of figuring out what to do,” Ghaw said. Taladwat was able to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which “helped for a little while,” Ghaw said, but added that it was difficult to continue running a restaurant — and manage debts like back rent — when doing just 20 percent of normal business levels.
The fallout in Theater District dining was likely a large reason for the drop in revenues. Ghaw said the bulk of Taladwat’s pre-pandemic business came from pre-theater and post-theater crowds, which are now nonexistent.
Taladwat offered outdoor seating, but Ghaw said it would have helped for the city to have offered more guidance on the prospects for indoor dining, especially given the investments required to re-fit dining rooms for the social-distancing era. Ghaw, who also runs Feast in the East Village, said Taladwat would have had to have invested in new furniture to revamp the communal seating area. “We would have had to reinvent ourselves completely,” Ghaw said.
Taladwat tweaked its menu in June, introducing pad thai noodles, choices of proteins, and adjustable spice levels, rather than having the bulk of the menu focus on composed dishes. “Obviously, during COVID, we wanted to appeal to a more broader base,” Ghaw said. The changeover, however, didn’t have much an effect on sales.
Ghaw said the RESTAURANTS act, which seeks to establish a $120 billion fund for independent culinary establishments, and which continues to work its way through Congress, will definitely help other restaurants. “It would have helped us too, but probably just not soon enough.”