The news about Pla Dib closing down spread like wildfire. The conversation of those who are concerned usually involves “No way!” “Yes way! They’re building a freaking condo” What is he going to do next?”. In only a short while, it became our urgency to rush over to Pla Dib and schedule an interview with Prew, the owner, to find out what happened, what’s behind the long lasting success and what is he going to do next.
To think about it, despite being the number one most well-known restaurant in Ari, I haven’t had a chance to connect with him officially until now. It’s sad to say that if not now we’re going to have to talk about Pla Dib as history. That’s why today I’m very eager to tell you the whole story of Pla Dib from the beginning to the end from the perspective of none other than Prew himself.
For those who don’t know, Pla Dib is an asian fusion restaurant with meticulously sourced ingredients and an eclectic menu. It’s situated in an old converted house just opposite to the entrance of the ministry of public relations. It’s been a staple hangout spot of the nightclubbers for 23 years. Don’t be surprised if you brush your shoulder against celebrities here, they are one of the common crowd.
“We’ve been open for over 20 years. I didn’t think too much about it at first. I just love cooking, been this way since as a kid. I just wish we had a nice restaurant where I live and so we don’t have to go all the way to Thonglor. There weren’t many to choose from back in the day. There wasn’t even the ministry of public relations, just an empty land with a fence made of metal sheets. The only one I remember is Suan Kularb restaurant further up the street, that’s the real oldie; they moved from the army I think”.
Not only a good restaurant that was lacking in Ari, but also condos and any hotspots as well. It was a purely residential zone. The only thing that stood out was an array of big houses of the military officers and high ranking government workers’ family houses. The kids knew each other and formed a bicycle gang, roaming the streets. Prew himself is undeniably one of those boys who grew up from these big houses as his last name is not a stranger to the political scene in Thailand.
“My dad loved to cook and eat. Because of my dad, I had a chance to try food from many restaurants that were considered exotic back then. French and Italian cuisine, these were only available in expensive hotels. My grandmother was a chef and a friend of Princess Bejaratana, she cooked for her in the palace in Sukhumvit. So we kind of inherited the traditional Thai recipe from her”.
(If you’re curious to try this recipe, you can do just that at “อย่างเก่าก่อน” restaurant in Phaholyothin 11. It belongs to Prew’s cousin)
“I became serious as a cook when I was studying abroad. I was cooking for my friends and roommates whom, by the way, had a horrible diet. There weren’t many options at that time, especially good asian food, unless you’re in a big city”.
Prew studied furniture design in the USA during the late 90s and in 1997 bad news from home arrived to him. His father passed away in a car accident, followed by the Tom Yum Goong financial crisis. Consequently Prew had to abandon his education and return to Thailand to help his mother cope.
In the 80s-90s this house here used to be occupied by a bar called “Johnny Walker” and then it’s changed to a place called “Forget Me Not”, a real old-fashioned place with a pool table and stuff. I don’t remember seeing this place as a house before. After I’m back for a while, I noticed that nobody was renting the place; I know the land owner and I wasn’t doing much apart from DJing so I thought this could be a great opportunity for me”.
“The name Pla Dib means Raw Fish. It’s originally the name of my design firm I founded with my friends. It’s deceptively simple but it’s all about the technique and quality of the ingredient, so I decided to call my restaurant that but in Thai. We didn’t do anything to promote ourselves. We barely had a sign! There’s a black address platform outside. We did as much as writing “Pla Dib” with chalk on it, that’s all”.
Unlike restaurants these days, it didn’t start off as being an instagram sensation and people rushing to check in to this place. Pla Dib enjoyed slow and stable success over the years. They made a small fortune to slowly renovate small areas of the restaurant one by one until it looks the way it is today. It’s worth mentioning that every piece of wooden furniture here is designed and made by Prew himself. That’s where his education in design comes to light.
“We’re a community venue so what I wanted to do is geared towards community benefit. You see that patch of unused land behind the house? Back then it was an abandoned area where people dump their trash and where robbers hid. So we invested in renting the area, turning it into a greenhouse. People in the Soi came around to water the veg too, you know? But then they increased the rent. I was like, are you insane?”
Twenty years have passed, Pla Dib has matured from the hip hotspot of the night to the neighborhood’s staple. Ari has also developed into an upscale area full of new rival businesses from outside with a thicker budget and modeled for a success. Being named ‘the only’ is no longer true and ‘the first’ does not really matter.
I’d be lying if I say I’m not disappointed with Ari. Our neighborhood is different the way it is. It’s not Sukhumvit or Thonglor. People like it because it has a homey feel to it, unlike anywhere else. It’s one of the few places in Bangkok where most people still know each other. But now it’s becoming less and less so. I have tried, many times actually, to build and preserve a community, to run activities but it was not successful in the long run. The land value became so high that it’s impossible to buy a plot of land here and not expect to make a lot of money out of it”.
Prew is one of the many fierce neighborhood’s ‘Key Players’ of Ari Samphan whose voice can be heard in public hearings of development projects that might cause harm to the neighborhood. Many locals place their trust in him speaking for them. On the other hand, I can confirm from my experience of talking with real estate developers, that Ari residents are revered as the people are not only conservative but will go out of their ways to protect the neighborhood. Some projects never seen the light of day because they can’t prove how their development will improve the neighborhood’s wellbeing.
Over the years, however, Ari is losing its unique charm of big quiet suburban houses. Pla Dib’s customers have grown out of their taste and the next generation did not pick it up. Either way, those are not the real reason why Pla Dib was closed down. In late December 2022, Prew heard from the land owner that the house was sold to an investor and that he had this certain amount of months to pack and leave.
“I’m not as young as I was before. After this I don’t want to do something much more simple but for sure it will be about food”.
When one adventure ends, another just starts. I am excited to share with you that the next project of Prew will only be a few minutes walk from Pla Dib. Something that involves chicken and rice, like in this instagram post here.
“I recently invited people to pick up trash in Ari. It’s easy to assume that Ari is cleaner than other areas, but after walking with a group, picking up trash from Gump Ari to Yellow Lane Cafe , we found the same shocking amount of trash just like any other area. As someone who grew up and works with the sea, I’d like to remind everyone that trash from anywhere can end up in the sea. As long as we cannot find a way to reduce our consumption, the trash incinerators or recycling centers alone will never be enough, and the trash will eventually be blown from the landfill to the water, ending up in the ocean.
The most commonly found trash in Ari is cigarette butts. This is tricky because many people don’t know that the butts are primarily made of plastic. People can smoke quite a number of cigarettes per day and ideally will always put them out in an ashtray. Of course, that doesn’t happen and as they are small, they tend to go unnoticed in the waters.
When I volunteered to look after “Marium the Dugong”, I was devastated because we were the last group of volunteers before she passed away and the autopsy found out that her stomach was full of trash with plastic stuck in her intestines. After that, I make sure I have time to do some beach clean-up every time I go diving. It’s not just a holiday destination, the sea is the largest food source for the whole world..”
“I know it’s super cringy when a company says it “treats their employees like family” but at my job, I really feel that way. I have been an employee at Guss Damn Good since the start of the brand. Now I’m doing much more. I’m from a lower-middle-class family, which means we all have to work hard for money. I needed money so I could sign up for a Work and Travel program, so I can make more money abroad. That’s why I got a job as an ice-cream scooper. It’s that simple.
But the brand founders told me, “Peat, when you come back, please come and work with us”. They always check the relationship with all their employees on a personal level. I think a good boss knows not only where the goal is but how to nurture the team to learn to achieve the goal together. Do I have a personal dream? Yes, I’d love to be an illustrator, but I don’t know how to get there yet. To speak frankly, I can see a career ladder with my current job, there will be something bigger more for me to do here at Guss Damn Good”
“I’m wearing this shirt I got from our previous clotheswap. It’s nothing fancy but it’s one of the shirts that spark joy, you know? I like clothes that aren’t too gimmicky and I can wear them on many occasions. That’s the kind of clothes I’m looking for at this upcoming clotheswap event.
I could say I have adopted a minimalist lifestyle, nothing too extreme though. I try to be conscious about what I bought for my home. I make sure that I don’t have more clothes than my limited amount of hangers, for example. I make sure everything has its purpose in my space. Even pretty decorative stuff I keep in my house, their purpose is to spark joy. If they don’t they can go haha.
“I’m feeling good today, look how few I have left to sell! This is what’s left over from 700 hundred cups! You see, my Kanom Tuay is not flats like the classic ones you see in boat noodle stalls. Those are a disaster when you put them in boxes. And let me tell you, no high heat when you steam cook them, make sure they taste salty and creamy.
I can’t do this all alone, are you kidding?! There are about one ton of ceramic cups to cook and clean! There are five of us renting a house together. 3 women and 2 men. Every morning we make Kanom Tuay together with about 700 -1,000 cups and then we head out to sell them on our own in this area. These ceramic cups are heavy as hell on the push cart. Then at the end of the day, we sit together and clean these cups. That’s our day.
I’m rooting for a lottery jackpot win today. If I win today, y’all can eat for free!”
“Our workload is about 5 times more during Valentine’s and, let me tell you, it’s the same with every other florist shop. Orders start to increase from the 10th and drop after the 14th. I normally work just with my partner but during Valentine’s we have to hire 5 more helpers, designing this year’s bundle, and work until the morning is not shocking for us. It is always like this every year.
When I was in Chiang Mai, studying art, I found that working with flowers was my favorite thing. My first flower arranging job I had was in a church, a wedding I think. It was over 20 years ago. Then I moved to Bangkok, this shop is 14 years old. I know people around here by name. Our shop used to be at the beginning of Soi Ari, which is now a Noble condo.
What I like about my job is the passing forward of joy from hand to hand. I love working with pretty things like flowers. I love being creative with them. Then, when the clients come to collect them and they’re happy with the result, that’s joyful. Then, they tag me or send me photos of how the receiver feels about the flowers. That’s very, very joyful for me.”
“When I tell people I’m an economist and a composer/ sound artist, they assume that I do my day job for money and make music for pleasure. The truth is I enjoy both, I’m an equally big nerd with both! My economic work gives me the privilege to work in different countries. When I’m overseas, I perform at gigs and make music inspired by their cultures. It has made me understand art and club culture deeper, which benefits my day job. I don’t DJ though. I don’t know how to please the crowd. I only make music as art to satisfy my geekiness.
I’ve traveled frequently since I was a kid. Both my parents are originally from Bangladesh. I am occasionally treated differently by my looks in some countries, especially in airports. But, as soon as I open my mouth, people instantly know that I’m a Brit. Being a nomad is great but sometimes you don’t get to keep valuable friendships. This is something I think about often and much of my music work explores these ideas of cities, places, and people.
Although an East Londoner right down to my DNA, I also feel a deep connection to Ari, Bangkok. A large part of that is due to those very same connections we have been speaking about, such as my partner, my friends, and the community. I would loathe losing those things…”
“Once when I trained my gym employees, I made one of them stand on a chair while everyone was sitting around them and I made them try to think about their favorite song while being watched. That’s the stress, self-consciousness, and shyness our customers feel when they walk into our gym for the first time. We are not a status gym with lots of trendy people who have great bodies, we have a lot of people who are not confident about their bodies but want to do something. I want to train my staff to know this feeling and treat them kindly.
People are working hard on their New Year’s Resolution this month. To make it not fall through, you must make it through the first month. That’s the hardest part when you want to change your brain pattern. New lifestyle, new food. The real benefit of going to the gym is mental health. My weight goes up and down all the time but I go to the gym every morning to let my brain transmit good feelings and positive energy. I think we all should start there.”
“It’s common for people from Roi Et like us to have to deal with debt from loan sharks. It’s hard to make ends meet. I make 500 baht per day, 6 days a week. I’d be lucky if I could send home 5,000 baht for my wife and two kids. They have no job because there aren’t any for them to do. They grow rice at certain times of the year but let’s be honest, it makes little to no money.
So I’m here in Bangkok as the breadwinner for my family so we can pay the loan. Sometimes they visit us here from Roi Et a few times a year. These days people start using Grab as messengers, so those special messenger jobs for offices are scarce. I can’t get into Grab either, I’m not tech-savvy like young folks and I don’t have apps or phones like them.”