Talad was originally meant to open in late March, how difficult was it realising that wasn't going to happen?
It was devastating. There was only a couple of weeks between when the lockdown came into force and when we intended to open. At the time I was finalising candidates for the various roles within the restaurant; and securing deals with suppliers. And then I had to turn around and tell them all that we were changing our plans. It was just terrible. Opening a restaurant is hard enough. We'd been building up to it for more than a year, and this just compounded the stress. I didn’t have much time to let it get me down, though, I knew I had to work quickly and I knew I had to innovate, so I quickly made the decision to pivot the business.
Where does the idea for Talad come from?
I wanted to do something based around the food I grew up with, which is also the food I missed the most. The concept was born when I began trading at food markets, and the name Talad means 'market' in Thai. Prior to working in restaurants I worked in banking, and I had been to a lot of Thai restaurants in London. Lots of them are nice, but they often serve similar menus, and I found it hard to find places serving the food I grew up with in Northern Thailand. So the initial market stall turned into a supper club concept, which then grew into plans to open Talad restaurant. I wanted to share my home and my culture with people, and create a different dialogue around Thai food. I hoped Talad could capture a more intimate element of my country's cuisine, which hasn't always comes through in the restaurants I have visited.
How has the concept changed?
Because of impact the Coronavirus has had on restaurants, we've chosen to scrap the entire model, and create a food and retail concept instead that's based around the same core idea, but has four individual arms: a Thai grocery; a hot deli serving takeaway dishes and freshly-made ready meals; a retail section stocking Thai products; and a food delivery operation. In order to avoid overwhelming ourselves, we’ve chosen to initially focus on the deli and delivery, in order to make sure everything is running smoothly. We'll have a limited selection of fruit and veg available to start, then once we have more scope we’ll focus on bringing in a greater range of retail products and grocery items to sell.
The restaurant was originally described as a 'perma pop-up’, with the hope that you would open the restaurant temporarily and then secure the site permanently if it was successful. Is this still the case?
We’ve had to renegotiate the whole contract, and the landlords have been amenable to those changes. Initially it was going to be a pop-up that would last for six months, with the option to extend should the concept prove successful. Now we’ve decided to have a lease with a break clause of both one year and two years. We knew that, given the crisis, six months wouldn’t be enough time to gauge the success of the business. So this has allowed us more time to see if it’s going to work, and offers us more security.
What's on the deli menu?
I've tried to stick as closely as possible to serving the dishes that would have featured on the Talad restaurant menu, many of which come from family recipes. My favourite dishes include nam prik, which is a Northern Thai-style bolognese made with tomatoes, minced pork and chilli; and hung le curry, which is a signature dish in the region and has an aromatic sauce of masala, wild ginger and turmeric as its base, and can come with either chicken or chickpeas.
Do you still hope to open Talad as a restaurant eventually?
I want to keep my options as open as possible. A lot of people are talking about how delivery is the future, and that the footfall in restaurants is only going to go down. In the short term maybe that will be the case, but if you’re a strong concept with the right idea and economics behind you, I think people will still come out to support you. I would love to open Talad as a restaurant one day, but this situation teaches us a lot, and for the time being shows the need to be able to pivot and not have a set model.