Opening a restaurant is like climbing a great set of stairs. The first step, in my case, was an idea. Then I struggled with investment proposals and profit and loss projections. Shareholders agreements shrouded in mind-numbing legalese followed. There were trips to law firms and finally—the fun part—researching recipes throughout Thailand. I've also been meeting with farmers who grow unique and delicious things here, and trying to piece together a supply chain. But the hardest part has been finding a home for my restaurant. This haunts me.
For the past three months, I've been following in the messy footprints of failure. Of restaurants left to rot. Of empty massage parlors, with oily plastic bottles still resting beside beds. Of shag-carpeted barstools and dusty karaoke machines, and bathrooms where the only thing that goes down the drain are rats. I look at a line of old hair dryers in a shuttered salon, with their jaundiced plastic globes, and try to imagine the manicured heads of customers instead. It's hard to find an affordable space in a big city, and a fertile imagination is essential.
There are reasons for these difficulties. Like a generous tax structure that allows Thai landowners to sit on property for as long as they like, rather than lowering the asking price. And cheap operating costs that enable failing businesses to stay open for longer than they should.
Plus, Bangkok is hot, and people don't usually walk more than a block or two to eat. So parking is crucial, and proximity to our limited public transportation is too, because of the perpetual traffic. If a space has all these things, rest assured they'll come at a cost, usually in the form of a "key fee"—a one-time payment to buy out a lease, which can be 10 or even 20 times the price of a month's rent. All that to rent a few rooms that reek of lost promise.