This week, I awarded one star to the family-friendly Pok Pok in my Bloomberg News column. Andy Ricker’s Red Hook restaurant serves very good Thai food and excellent cocktails, with most prices at $15 or under. Sadly, the two-month-old spot hasn’t quite worked out its front-of-the-house issues.
With a single bar servicing close to 100-seats, it’s not uncommon to wait 10 minutes for a drink, a serious problem for a venue that emphasizes booze — there are only three wines, compared with 17 cocktails. And if 10 minutes doesn’t intuitively seem like a long wait for a proper potable, it will when your eating catfish salad spiked with the incendiary chiles of Northern Thailand.
Of course, we like to focus on numbers here at The Price Hike, so it’s worth noting that at Pok Pok’s Portland flagship, the Thai offerings are largely the same, though the prices are naturally lower. The minced pork salad is $12 in PDX, but $14 in New York, while the kaffir-infused gin & tonic is $7.50 in PDX, but $9 in New York — still relatively affordable by Brooklyn standards. Things get a little more interesting with the whole chicken, which is $12.50 in PDX and $20 in New York, a curious 60% difference.
It’s also worth nothing that when it comes time to pay that bird, you won’t be able to use your American Express card, either in Portland or Brooklyn. So it goes that Pok Pok is one of the few ambitious NYC restaurants to refuse Amex, a policy that’s stated, somewhat appropriately, in a credit card-style fine-print font at the bottom of the menu. Curious indeed. So we decided to ask Andy Ricker about some of these pricing and payment peculiarities, and he was kind enough to chat with us via e.mail earlier this week. Here’s our back and forth:
Tell me about your decision not to accept American Express, a card that, if you’d allow me to play the devil’s advocate, many corporate diners in New York almost exclusively use. Of course, I understand merchant fees are an issue for small businesses… .It’s all about the fees they charge; they’re pretty outrageous. I could really go on about this, but that’s for a whole article. We really don’t attract many corporate clients, don’t really have a space to do that type of business and have never had to take A.E. to maintain business, so we don’t. I’d rather not accept cards at all, but don’t want the grief of dealing with pissed off people all the time because of it. Long story short, restaurants operate on tight margin, and credit card feeds (which get taken off the top of gross receipts including tips) can really cut into the profits. It’s really disheartening to see how much they get for doing very little…In some case it can be close to 2-3% of gross receipts, and when you run with a 7-10% profit margin, that’s a lot.
What would have to change for you to start accepting American Express? For them to drop their fees to the level of a non-rewards Visa or MC.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on using the $20 Label Rouge chickens in New York, versus the $12.50 whole game hens in PDX. Obviously, the cost of living in Portland is significantly lower, but this particular price discrepancy and choice of poultry intrigued me. Yes, price plays a part in the separate markets. The Label Rouge hens are delicious, better than the game hens but Portland Punters would never pay the price, despite lip service about sourcing and sustainability. You guys are more sophisticated and richer.
I’m looking at your Pok Pok PDX menu, and I see you use boar collar there, while you use Niman Ranch pork neck in NYC. Curious about the difference and the decision to use the different meats in the different locations. When it went on the menu initially in PDX, we could not source pork neck, but did find boar collar. Boar is common in Northern Thailand so [we] decided to use it. Turned out to be great so stuck with it. When [we] arrived in NYC could not source boar, so went with Mangalitsa pork neck roll. That dried up (the one farm here that specializes has no more piggies to kill apparently) so moved to Niman. Original dish in Northern Thailand is typically pork neck. I actually prefer the NYC version but the boar is so established in PDX we are sticking with it. Plus neck roll not still readily available in Portland (—Andy Ricker)