Bangkok Market, the first Thai market in Los Angeles, has closed
Bangkok Market, the Thai grocery store on Melrose Avenue that has been a go-to destination for Asian ingredients for chefs and home cooks for 47 years, has closed.
“Nothing dramatic happened — my mom is 72,” owner Jet Tila said. The chef, cookbook author and television personality’s family opened the market in 1972. “It was time for her to retire and we got a massive offer for the building.”
When the market opened in a 1,000-square-foot space on Melrose Avenue, it was the first Thai grocery store in Los Angeles. Tila said his father received a $20,000 loan from his mother’s family to start the business. In the 1980s, they moved to the larger, current location a little more than 100 feet down the road.
Chefs from all over the city shopped at Bangkok Market for hard-to-find ingredients such as fish sauce, curry paste, chile sauce, lemongrass and different varieties of rice and noodles. The success of the market enabled Tila’s family to expand its businesses to include, at one point, seven L.A. restaurants, an import company and a produce venture.
As a teenager, Tila ran groceries to chefs including Sang Yoon, Suzanne Tracht, and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.
While Tila said it just felt like the right time to close the market, he did note that in the last 15 years, other grocery stores like Lax-C and Bangluck Market opened, making once hard-to-find ingredients more accessible.
The market closed to the public on Nov. 18, but kept its doors open the past week to allow chefs to buy the remaining products off the shelves.
Sabel Braganza, executive chef at E.P. & L.P. restaurant in West Hollywood, has been shopping at the market since she moved to Hollywood in 2012. She said it reminded her of a small Filipino market she visited growing up in Orange County. It’s where she bought not just Thai ingredients for E.P. & L.P. but also Filipino spicy cane vinegar, Chinese long beans, Kara coconut products and tamarind.
“I started tearing up at the quietly eerie atmosphere of the market, boxes piled all around and half-empty shelves, knowing that my beloved grocery store would soon disappear and get remodeled into something else,” Braganza said.
Jazz Singsanong, chef-owner of Jitlada restaurant, has been ordering from Bangkok Market for more than 12 years.
“I was shocked when I heard they were closing,” Singsanong said. “When I came here in 1979 I started shopping there. I’ve known Jet since he was 7.”
Singsanong estimates she spent $10,000 to $20,000 monthly at the market.
In the first episode of “Off Menu,” Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson and Jazz Singsanong, longtime proprietor of the Thai Town restaurant Jitlada, head to LAX-C, a vast, warehouse-like grocery store that’s sometimes known by its informal nickname, Thai Costco.
Tila isn’t sure what will happen to the building now but suspects it may turn into apartments or a large retail center. He noted that the building is zoned for multiple uses.
“It’s a part of Los Angeles food history,” Tila said. “Our family would just like to thank everyone who has ever stopped by the store.”
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