What will become of Brooklyn’s Little Bangkok?
Many fans of cheap Thai food — and some of the numerous purveyors of it — have been asking the same question ever since the neighborhood’s groundbreaking Southeast Asian pioneer, Planet Thailand, closed in August.
The restaurant, which opened in 1997, claimed it was chased out by rising rents — but intense competition and a declining number of starving artists were more likely the deciding factors.
After all, there are four Thai and three Asian fusion restaurants in a three-block span around Bedford Avenue and North Sixth Street — all of whom followed Planet Thailand.
“Back then, the area was populated by students, and Planet Thailand was new, small, cheap and good,” said Nancy Ralph, director of the New York Food Museum. “[It was] the first alternative to local Polish food, which was also cheap and good.”
But the closure of Planet Thailand has at least one restaurateur doubtful whether Williamsburgers’ love of reasonably priced, large-portioned curry and pad Thai can go on forever.
“We’re struggling,” said Tom Malipol, a manager at Noodle Studio, which is on North Fifth Street, but a block away from most of its competition. “There are too many Thai restaurants in the area. It’s very hard.”
Indeed, Mudjalin Jones, a waitress at Tai Thai on Bedford Avenue agreed, “We all share customers.”
And customers may have too many options.
In addition to Noodle Studio and Tai Thai, there’s also SEA Thai on North Sixth Street — which is basically next door to Tacu Tacu.
There’s also Wild Ginger, a pan-Asian vegan café that opened in 2006, and Red Bowl — a primarily Chinese restaurant with several Thai options — that opened in 2007. Both are directly next door to Tai Thai.
For now, everyone is holding on, thanks to “tourists and hipsters,” said Jones, but Don Supakorn, a manager at Sea, is bullish on the Planet Thailand-less future. He says he does an “overwhelming” amount of business thanks to his after-hours nightclub.
“On the weekends, Sea gets extremely packed,” agreed Steven Tan, manager at Tacu Tacu, which also transforms into a bar at night. “They help the neighborhood by bringing people in.”
But business can’t be that good, or else Planet Thailand would not have abandoned the neighborhood it helped create.
In a particularly ironic move, the restaurant actually reopened in Manhattan as Planet Thailand 212 — yet still marketing its Brooklyn cred.
“We kept the Williamsburg aesthetic and affordable prices,” said owner Anna Popermhen.
Sea Thai Restaurant and Bistro [114 N. Sixth St. between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, (718) 384-8850]; Chai Home Kitchen [124 N. Sixth St. between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, (718) 599-5889]; Tacu Tacu [136 N. Sixth St. between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, (718) 218-7889]; Tai Thai [206 Bedford Ave. between N. Fifth and N. Sixth streets, (718) 599-5556]; Noodle Studio [116 N. Fifth St. between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, (718) 218-7260]; Red Bowl [208 Bedford Ave. between N. Fifth and N. Sixth streets, (718) 388-8898].