The sun seemed to bid its farewell already. I rushed from an interview with a shoe repair shop in Phibun Watthana apartment to Ari soi 2. My next appointment was with a pretty unique grilled squid stall. At first glance, it will remind you of a traditional ramen cart from Japan. Only that it occupies an empty slot in a parking lot, prompting passersby to take a snapshot or two.
This squid stall is called Sumpok Stall. I came here to chat with Aoy and Kaab, two of the three people behind this small business. Many long-time residents of Ari already know them as the owners of Ari’s famous grill restaurant, Summer Street, with its unpretentious, funky, and friendly style but with the finesse of professional designers.
And these characteristics that define Summer Street can also be used to describe its founders perfectly!
Introducing Summer Street founders
After chowing down some springy grilled octopus with spicy garlic-lime-chili dipping sauce, I found myself between Aoy and Kaab, who had seated themselves for the interview. The dusk had already rolled in. We sat in the alley by the roadside with motorcycles passing by.
Aoy is a handsome woman with a somewhat intimidating air. Kaab came across as a more amiable type but is also a fluent talker. The two have been designers by profession even before the start of Summer Street. With this, one can guess how their establishments managed to look charismatic while staying down-to-earth.
“We used to work at the building right next to Dice years ago, so we would always come here for some grub. There used to be a community with shophouses huddling close together though they could use some maintenance. The corner where we were was occupied by a som tam vendor we frequented.”
When she was about to move out, she jokingly asked if we could take over her lot. We were like: please don’t joke around, we’d really love to.
The Beginning: Summer Street, Soi Ari 2 (2014-2017)
“It was just a street food stand.”
That was the answer from the pair after being asked what they had had in mind when starting the business. We were talking about a grill stand that looked like one you’d find along the seaside, only that it sat nonchalantly in an alley with a small trailer that the three partners had designed themselves. It had a small shed for a few tables, each equipped with a portable charcoal stove for grilling the food. Theirs was the first business to offer sets of seafood assortment on a platter. Unlike seaside stands, where customers have to choose each ingredient and portion.
Summer Street in the evening (Image: Wongnai)
“We wanted something that wasn’t too sophisticated and alienated from the surrounding area. We saw izakaya food trucks on our trips to Japan. Hence, as designers, we took the challenge to adapt it into the context of Thailand.”
The business received a very warm welcome upon opening. To the extent that someone took measurements of the trailer and took photos of everything to make a replica of it. Before long, Summer Street was featured in various shows and ultimately became a hotspot for Ari residents socializing after work and seafood lovers who don’t want to make a long trip, as Summer Street sourced their ingredients directly from the south and Mahachai Seafood Market.
“We positioned ourselves as an alternative and didn’t compete with other seafood restaurants, whether the ones around here or those in Prachachuen. We highlighted our designs, from the food arrangement in the platter to ensure that the proportion and color combination looked good for the pictures. Instagram was booming, so the people took photos and spread them around like a wildfire. Also, food trucks were a new fad at the time. As for the food, we gave our best too, because all of us have some connection to the sea.”
That was until…
The area that connected Ari Soi 1 and Soi 2 was sold, so everyone there had to clear out and find a new place to settle down in a few weeks after the news.
Vintage Era: Summer Street Camp at The Camp Vintage Market, Chatuchak (2018-2020)
“Despite the urgent need to find a new place, we didn’t give up because we felt connected to the stand. A new market was opening, and someone invited us to relocate there. A vintage-themed flea market called “The Camp” opened from noon to midnight. They were selecting vendors, so we sent them our references. Then we reopened there, at Chatuchak.”
During this time, we saw a lot of changes to Summer Street. The place now had an even more distinctive design, with a kitchen converted from an old bus, string lights, and letter lights that read “Summer Street Camp” to match the market’s vintage theme.
“Some regulars heard about our new place and returned, but there weren’t a lot of them since the location was harder to find and was inside of the market. You’d have to find parking. Most of the customers were new, with few veteran customers.” Kaab, who handled the procurement, remembers his regulars very well.
“We’ve been in business for so long it’s a little curious to see our customers’ timelines, for example, a boy came in his school uniform who just started seeing a girl, then they went steady and came together, then they broke up, and later he started a new job, got a new girlfriend, then got married and had children. ”
Some of them started as customers then became friends, and later we became close enough to confide in each other. A lot of people came into my life through this business.
While we were sitting there chatting, a man who was jogging greeted the two owners. Aoy told me he was one of their customers living in Ari. He had been eating at their place until they became close, and now he was getting married. When we were on the topic, this perfect timing felt as if he was sent to demonstrate their good relationships with customers!
Like a snuffed candle…
“Nobody knows why, but suddenly less and fewer people came. Not just our place but the whole market. It was diminished, like a snuffed candle.”
As a result, the market was shut down, and Summer Street had to relocate again. This coincided with their desire to expand into a restaurant with a proper kitchen.
Full-scale era: Summer Summer by Summer Street Soi Ari (2020)
“Previously, we sold fresh ingredients for customers to grill themselves, but now we expanded and had our kitchen for cooking.”
Summer Summer was their return to Ari. After the shutdown of the Camp Market, the two saw the importance of the location. They decided to return to Ari, where their old regulars were and chose a spot on Phahon Yothin 7 (the main Ari Alley) close to the beginning of Soi 4, not far from the famous Salt restaurant.
Summer Summer in 2020 (Image: BKK Menu)
The restaurant offered both indoor and outdoor seatings. It was decorated into an original marriage between an izakaya and a street food stall.
“As a full-scale restaurant, we had to provide full services. There were many things we had never done before, but it was pretty fun. The first 2 months, I was like,” No shit Aoy, it’s happening. We’re packed.” And then came Covid-19… It hit us from the first wave. We lost most of our customers, and the lockdowns were simply crippling.”
And how did you get by?
“We got by with a delivery. It only keeps you above the water, though. In other words, it “reduces your loss,” but in truth, you just can’t. We never had a chance against the big fish. For example, MK once had a buy one, get one free deal for ducks. How do I compete with this? I’d also order from MK. Plus, the atmosphere when you dine in was one of our selling points.”
We kept it up for over a year. The fourth wave was the last straw. We ran out of options. I had already sold all my gold
Aoy said. Even though the story was sad, her voice and eyes gave away her amusement reflecting on how she got through that experience.
After the fourth wave, they no longer had enough budget to continue. Their long-time workers began to quit, either to avoid COVID hazards or because they got job offers elsewhere. As a result, the pair decided to close down the restaurant that had only been open for two months.
Safe to say that this is the end of the legend of Summer Street, the beloved hangout spot for the people of Ari.
Spirit era: Sumpok Stall (2021)
After the second half of 2021, Summer Summer was officially shut down. It was just another in the sea of restaurant businesses that all took critical blows. While some survive, others don’t. Many employees gave in under pressure, and the three founders didn’t have the means to continue resisting.
“Our two servers, Tee and Ji, have been with us for over eight years – since the Summer Street days. They’ve stuck with us through thick and thin – no matter how many times we’ve had to move. We eventually closed down Summer Summer by Summer Street in soi 4 after the fourth lockdown; we couldn’t keep it going any longer. Other employees went separate ways; some other immigrants returned to their country. Still, Tee and Ji insisted on staying with us.
You know, back in the Summer Street days, these two got lots of compliments on their excellent service. They worked hard and sacrificed a lot during the hard times. When I got a phone call from my business partner about giving it another try, I asked, “Who are we doing this for?” – I have my full-time job and a baby to raise, though I’m not struggling financially. If we’re doing this so they can keep their job – I’m in. And that’s how Sumpok Stall started.”
Aoy told us that she didn’t expect anything from Sumpok other than giving her servers jobs. As for the customers can hang out in a friendly atmosphere reminiscent of that in Summer Summer. The business is always here, on a long journey together with the people of Ari. And their journey still goes on, waiting for a new exciting new chapter to begin.
Kaab said that if you want a wooden cart like this, don’t bother copying it. They’re for sale!