I’ve been planning the opening of Talad for over a year. I’ve held weekly supper clubs, honing and practising my menu on friends and media. My whole vibe is about bringing north and north eastern Thai cuisine to London; it’s very different to mainstream Thai food, more aromatic and herbier, thanks to influences from China and Myanmar, rather than spicy. Having said that, from our north eastern specialty menu, my som tum (papaya salad) has a definite kick!
I was all set to open my restaurant in late March, early April. I found a lovely site on the New King’s Road in Chelsea and was busy briefing my PR, social media and design teams when Covid hit our shores.
Initially, I was shocked and anxious; it took me about a month to gather my thoughts and work out what I was going to do. Do I leave the site, potentially losing a fantastic opportunity in a great part of London, or do I stick with it, not knowing when and how lockdown was going to come to an end?
Eventually, I created a hybrid concept. I pivoted my business model to more of a deli concept, where I could make hot food for takeaway and Deliveroo but also use the space for pastries, ambient pantry items for Asian cooking, freshly made daily kombuchas, beautiful homemade pickles, jams and things like homemade cakes and coffees. We opened at the very end of June.
"The usual routes to opening a restaurant – months
and monthsof PR build up, word of mouth,
street marketing…it’s all gone out of the window"
The space is lovely and calming, with a really modern feel, spacious and welcoming. We’ve just added a few tables and chairs to begin the journey to dine-in customers and we are starting to see a real shift in the amount of people who want something warm or a zingy salad for lunch to eat in as well as take away.
Another challenge is the availability of ingredients. Pre-lockdown, I could whatever I needed from local markets or online vendors. The situation now is a lot more challenging; ingredients have become less available (sometimes just not at all, such as pandan, which is frustrating as one of my launch products was going to be a completely unique pandan croissant!).
This means that sometimes they’re going to be more expensive too – a challenge for me at a time when I am aiming to keep my own costs as low as possible. We are hopeful that by now being on Deliveroo, we can expand the offering to even more people.
The final challenge we face is that all the usual routes to opening a restaurant – months and months of PR build up, word of mouth, street marketing…it’s all gone out of the window during lockdown. We’re using Instagram a lot and have started working with some key influencers and journalists…but it’s going to be a slow burn.
We’re having to be extremely tenacious with our marketing; luckily our location is near lots of residential property but with most people still at home and not walking to the tube or shops it’s harder to reach them. In a way I am so grateful my central London sites fell through; pure serendipity in motion….the beauty of our location is the amount of residential housing.
It’s been exhilarating and scary, exciting and stressful. I would not change it for the world – but we’ve got to work really hard. Probably ten times harder than if we opened a straight restaurant. I‘m learning on the job and I am very, very hopeful for the future.