Pok Pok


Mark Meckler, Crafting A Strategy Founder

Andy Ricker, owner and chef of Pok Pok restaurant in Southeast Portland was exhausted, and he groaned when he saw what were probably two or three week’s worth of purchase receipts piled up next to the computer. Every evening, Pok Pok was packed. It had been about a year and a half like this. Even with the severe economic recession and a jobless rate of nearly 12 percent in Oregon, they were seeing more and more people line up for a table. Chef Ricker was proud that they had kept their prices very low, like most local Asian food restaurants. They were probably charging 30 to 50 percent less than the price for a meal at non-Asian restaurants. The restaurant was making about a 6% net profit, with operating margins of about 12%. Their creative combinations of eastern Asian flavors and recipes (Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai and Chinese) were a big hit with Portland diners. Their signature item, chicken wings in spicy barbecue sauce had become one of the most talked about foods in the whole city of Portland. Nobody could quite recreate them. Their bar business was excellent. Pok Pok served drinks that matched even much more upscale bars and restaurants around town, and were 30% larger. However, they were having trouble keeping up with all the demand for both food and drinks. The kitchen was running out of chicken wings nearly every night and the fresh seared tuna and noodle soup was also constantly over sold. There was a lot of pressure on operations. Food was wasted because of having to rush. The ice machine was over taxed and kept breaking down (or running out of ice). The cost of some of the key items had stopped going down, even though he was buying more. In fact, Andy had just noticed that the cost of chicken wings and for chicken breasts was slowly increasing. He laughed to himself as he imagined that his chicken supplier was probably driving a new BMW thanks to Pok Pok and Andy Ricker's hard work and years researching recipes. By 5:30pm each evening there was a line down the sidewalk, and all night long the wait staff could see people stand for a few minutes, then leave. Ricker had already expanded his existing facilities as much as he could. He had added dining tables, a bar and a large tent outside and a dining room upstairs. He had not added kitchen/production space because that would have taken away from potential guest seating space. There was a restaurant in the house right next door that was not very busy, but as they did not serve Pok Pok’s menu or anything remotely similar, people did not really want to go there, so it only kind of benefited from the overflow. The cooks at Pok Pok were sometimes completely overwhelmed because it was so busy and because of the pressure to be as fast as possible. Two cooks had already quit, at least one of them hired away by another restaurant. It was not easy to find good cooks, especially ones who knew how to cook true Vietnamese style properly and who had at least a “green card” from the US department of immigration and naturalization. Chef Ricker also was finding that sometimes the cooks, either because of inexperience or just because of having to rush all the time, would not be 100% consistent in their preparations, with the quality and quantities sometimes above the standard, and sometimes below the standard. Yawning, he picked up his handwritten order sheet and dialed the first of his suppliers to order what he needed for tomorrow.