Tough times have made King Phojanakong a jack-of-all-trades.
Some days, he’s a host, server, chef and dishwasher. Other days, he shops and even acts as a disc jockey, choosing restaurant playlists for diners.
Phojanakong, 39, is the owner of two restaurants – Kuma Inn, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Umi Nom, an Asian restaurant in its infancy that was opened about three months ago in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
“I have many restaurant owner friends that are really feeling the crunch,” said Phojanakong. “They thought I was crazy for opening Umi Nom in the middle of this big recession.”
But the restaurant had been months in the planning and the Clinton Hill area looked up-and-coming, Phojanakong says. So he leapt.
Now, he nips and tucks where he can. He doesn’t use a floral service anymore; he makes his own arrangements with artificial flowers that save him $60 a week. He trimmed his linen service and even built his own restaurant tables by carving and staining long wooden blocks sold as countertops.His wife, Annabelle, 35, serves as a hostess, waitress and dishwasher when needed. A corporate attorney by day, she has also done some more unpleasant tasks – like cleaning out a restaurant toilet – because she knows it’s what the family needs to do to make the business a success. On a recent Friday, she scurried from customer to customer, taking names and seating them before running to the back to see where else she might need to fill in.
“I race here from my day job whenever they’re short staffed,” she said. “It’s pretty exhausting. I really sometimes don’t even think I’m going to make it.”
King Phojanakong works with a bare bones staff, choosing to fill roles himself wherever he can. Between lunch and dinner, Phojanakong shuttles back and forth between his two restaurants, whizzing in a van across the Williamsburg Bridge. He purchases food supplies in Chinatown along the way. This practice allows Phojanakong not only to buy ingredients at wholesale prices, but also to cut out the delivery service – or middleman.To watch videos about this story, click here.