Within a year, this woman transformed an inherited 100-year-old building into a one-of-a-kind Michelin restaurant.
If you happened to take a stroll inside Samphanthawong alley (or what the locals called “Sampeng”) on Vanich 1 road, then you’ll know that such location used to be a place full of livelihood. As of today, such a location represents the demise of retailing businesses, which have been disrupted by the rapid rise of e-commerce.
However, given the circumstances, if you happen to walk further down the road, you’ll notice an odd, old, yet modern-looking building amidst Sampeng that contrasts in many ways with the surrounding area. It appears completely out of place during the day, but at night it exudes warmth and life amidst dark and mysterious alleys, as if you’re lost in the desert and have just discovered a water fountain.
There could only be one place in Sampeng that can create such an effect, and that place is called Restaurant Potong, which is owned by Chef Pichaya “Pam” Soontornyanakij, and talking with Chef Pam was probably one of the most awe-inspiring conversations you could ever have because she has so many stories to tell about her new restaurant.
Pam was a Chulalongkorn University graduate. At first, she appears to have no interest in cooking as a career, but as she progresses through her second year of university studying Communication Arts, she realizes that given how she grew up cooking with her mother all the time, her interest in the world of culinary only continues to grow. That is when she began her culinary education and gained experience working in a Michelin-starred restaurant in the United States.
After graduating, she returned with the goal of opening her own restaurant. However, because of her parents’ vision and experience, they did not allow her to do what she had planned right away, but instead gave her great advice, which was to first study consumer behavior in Thailand. From then on, she paved her way into the world of culinary, beginning with a private chef table, catering, and then an official casual dining restaurant called “Smoked,” which also laid the groundwork for the Potong Restaurant and Opium Bar.
After a while, With the rise of e-commerce and the decline of the wholesale business, the tenant who had rented the building owned by her family for over 60 years decided to terminate the lease. Her parents took her to see the building after the lease was terminated; upon seeing it for the first time, it immediately captivated her attention.
“I thought it would be really cool if I converted this building into a fine dining restaurant in the middle of Sampeng.” Chef Pam shared her thought. “My grandfather warned me that the location isn’t ideal for a restaurant, but what I see is a destination. It’s a place you’ve already planned to visit.”
As to why the building looks the way it is, she informed us that the building was once a drug store, whereas they assemble all the herbs and make their medicine on the second floor, while using the third floor for their own residents.
Because Pam’s ancestors are Chinese immigrants who came and settled their home in Thailand generations ago, she decided that the concept of the food had to be “Progressive Thai-Chinese.” And to her knowledge, no one has ever made a fine dining out of Thai-Chinese cuisine before. Not only is it a new and unique idea, but it is also a very humble way for her to reconnect with the roots of her existence. Apart from Thai-Chinese cuisine, the art pieces, storytelling, and the building’s rustic but luxurious design all contribute to the building’s overall journey, and it was designed to aesthetically contrast in a seductive way, like an organized chaos. Furthermore, Pam wants her guests to go on a journey through the location and its memories, not just a meal. For example; on a welcome note, it tells a brief story about how the Potong journey began, heightened by modern presentation tools such as virtual reality, which Pam and her husband brilliantly utilize to portray each story. All you need is a smartphone to scan the QR code (to download the presentation app) and use the app downloaded to scan on each historical art piece placed throughout the restaurant, ranging from pieces scanned from her uncle’s artbook that she found randomly in the building, or the paintings that she made her own.
As a result, the restaurant became a big hit of a destination and the guests loves every element of the building, whether the location itself, stories or the dining experiences such as her signature dish “Evolution of Crab,” which reflects her childhood memories of her parents taking her to beach cities. “Whenever we order seafood, one of the must-order dishes has to be steamed blue crab.” Chef Pam shared her story about her childhood “My mother once told me that the best part of eating crab is peeling it yourself. It’s not as enjoyable when someone else does the work for you.” she added. The dish has a clean and simple aesthetic but thoughtfully made, with crab roe turned into a crab roe sauce, and a black pepper sauce hidden on the side inside a crab shell, served with its meat which has been harvested and turned into butter to be grilled on top of toast.
Evidently, such creativity and passion will not go unnoticed by many, as proven by the numerous awards received in a relatively short period of time.
“We have received an unbelievable number of awards from both local and international media, and I believe that the key to such growth is to be genuinely authentic to the customers.” Chef Pam shared her success story.
“In the end, what you get is what you give.”