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Five Months Into The Pandemic, How One Thai Restaurant Is Trying To Hang On

When Forbes last spoke with Lita Wall, the owner of Thai Direct Bowls in Manhattan, it was April, scarcely a month into the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time the future looked bleak. “Everyone is afraid,” she said. “You have to spend money on marketing to actually get people to buy, [but] we don’t actually have money right now.”

Against all odds, Wall is still operating four months later, hoping that New York City will reopen and customers will return in larger numbers. Scores of nearby restaurants have already shuttered for good. “A lot Thai restaurants have closed,” says Wall. “Some have sold.”

At Thai Direct Bowls, sales have ticked up in recent months but are still half of pre-COVID levels. Wall estimates she is losing $1,000 per week, even as she works to reduce overhead. 

The restaurant, like many in New York, is serving customers through outdoor dining, which has taken over sidewalks across Manhattan this summer. Those who visit Wall on the Lower East Side can tuck into her healthy takes on Thai cuisine, like “green curry with a twist” (served with boiled pumpkin and roasted cauliflower) or Yum Gai Sai Tua (a mixed vegetable salad adorned with organic chicken and peanut sauce).

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The foot traffic helps, says Wall, but “when the weather is bad people don’t come.” Later in the year, when the weather worsens for good, her revenue may drop further, particularly if a second virus wave hits the city. She is hoping for a rent reduction to mitigate the financial toll.

Wall, a native of Bangkok, opened Thai Direct Bowls in 2018 after a career in finance, including a stint at Bank of America

BAC
. Today, even amid the stress, she maintains a cheery attitude, imploring her neighbors in New York to help local restaurants stay afloat. 

“Reviews will help,” she says. “If things go wrong maybe [people] can understand that restaurants are understaffed at the moment, and maybe they would be nice in the reviews. Give restaurants a chance.”

Thai Direct Bowls

Address: 131 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009

Suggested Dishes: Green curry, Thai beef bowl, khao soi, make your own bowl. 

Price Range: Bowls are $14 to $15. 

Phone Number: (646) 370-1122

Website: www.thaidirectbowls.com

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