Come to this chill Thai Town shop for plants, then get an egg roll next door

Belle Dankongkakul waters plants inside her store
Belle Dankongkakul waters plants at Stuff, with Hollywood Boulevard in the background.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

In our Plant PPL series, we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have suggestions for PPL to include, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.

Growing up in the country’s largest Thai community, Belle Dankongkakul learned about hard work and perseverance by watching her mother toil at Torung, her family’s Thai-Chinese restaurant, until 4 a.m. every day.

Looking back, she says the L.A. restaurant and her family informed who she is today. When her aunt gave her money at a sixth birthday party held at the restaurant, for instance, her mother scolded her and promptly told her to give it back.

“She said, ‘Do you know how hard she works for this money?’” Dankongkakul recalls now. “‘You see how hard she works in the kitchen?’ As a child, I was so mad and sad, but I gave it back.”

Inspired by her mother, Dankongkakul, 32, now works two full-time jobs, running her plant shop Stuff during the day and cooking pad Thai and curry, waiting tables — even washing dishes — at Torung most nights until midnight.


“I think growing up and working in the service industry your whole life, in general, molds a person,” she says. “You learn how to put up with a lot, and you know how to work hard in a fast-paced environment.”

She opened Stuff next door to the restaurant three years ago after leaving her corporate job as a visual merchandiser. In what she describes as a “classic millennial plant pivot,” she asked her mother if she could take over the restaurant’s storage unit and open a space for Los Angeles creatives.

Belle Dankongkakul stands outside her plant shop and Thai restaurant
Belle Dankongkakul took over a storage space next door to Torung, her family’s Thai restaurant.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Visual merchandising may not have appealed to her as a profession, but her artistic flair shines at Stuff, where gifts and ceramics by Los Angeles artists are elegantly displayed among a wide selection of tropical plants and succulents. There are handmade weavings and funky velour macramé planters by Dapper House Menagerie, delicate ceramics by L.A.-based Thai ceramicist Echo Azure and Concrete Geometric, affordably priced vintage clothing, candles and plant accessories — potting soil, misters, plant food and tools. Her warmth and sense of humor are reflected in the products she chooses, including tiny planters dripping with sparkling disco balls, miniature grab-and-go succulents and a discounted “Sad Plants Sale.”

Brandy Williams is an artistic landscaper who paints with plants — one luscious succulent at a time — through her business Garden Butterfly.

Though her store is filled with plants, she is most interested in highlighting local artists and bringing people to her community. I recently caught up with Dankongkakul to talk about why that matters and what lies ahead.

The obvious question: What prompted you to open a plant shop?

I am your typical millennial plant pivot story. When I graduated from college, I got a corporate job and was miserable. So I made a plan, saved my money and started my own business. My mom is a bit of a hoarder when it comes to restaurant supplies and used what is now my store for storage. I renovated it and turned it into a shop.

Originally, I wanted to start a co-working business because I’ve always wanted to work with other creatives and make beautiful things. I tried that for a bit, but when the pandemic hit, I pivoted to plants.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your business?

It wasn’t terrible. Everyone was home and wanted plants. It affected my street traffic and prompted me to think about doing delivery and selling things online. But I don’t want to ship plants. That’s not what I’m about.


Plants, ceramics and gifts on shelves
Plants, ceramics and gifts at Stuff.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)
A plants mural outside of a building
A mural by Majalyn Aquino, makes the store pop along Hollywood Boulevard.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

I don’t want to add more waste to the world. I just want to bring people to our Thai Town community.

Did watching your family run the restaurant inspire you as a small business owner?

I’d say growing up in the restaurant and my mom have been my biggest influences. When I was young, I barely even saw my mom because she was working at the restaurant every day from 3 p.m. to 4 a.m. back when Torung was the late-night Thai restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard. She’s the most giving person I know. I think she’s the reason why it’s so important to me to be a part of this community and to give back.

I like that you asked me about my family. They are the reason that I’m able to be open here.

Your plant shop is a fun surprise among all the restaurants on Hollywood Boulevard.

I grew up in this neighborhood, and it has been so nice to watch it, and a lot of other small businesses on Hollywood Boulevard, grow. Thai Town means a lot to me.

Both of my grandparents emigrated from China to Thailand and had my parents there. Then, my parents emigrated to California separately and met at Torung. So technically, I’m Chinese by blood but culturally, I’m Thai.

This block has so much potential. I can’t wait to see it take off.


Your store’s plant mural certainly qualifies as neighborhood beautification.

I wanted the store to pop. The mural was done by Majalyn Aquino. We met at a ceramics studio, and it turned out she lived nearby, so she worked here with me until she got pregnant. She is an artist, so I asked her to do a mural. I love being able to give those opportunities to people if I can.

Belle Dankongkakul sit in a chair surrounded by plants
Belle Dankongkakul takes a break in between jobs at Stuff.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

What’s it like running two businesses at once?

Things are hectic. A kitchen employee left for a month so I’m at the plant store from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the restaurant from 5 to midnight.

I was washing dishes in the back for two months, because it was impossible to find dishwashers. Most of our kitchen staff have been here for more than 10 years. Dishwashing is the dirty job that no one wants to do. Everything is so expensive right now. It’s a good time for plants but not for restaurants.

What’s Torung known for?

We pride ourselves on our shrimp cakes and egg rolls. We make our own. Not everyone makes them in-house.

A glass door cabinet turned greenhouse, plants, and gifts
Ferns and begonias thrive inside a glass door cabinet from IKEA.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

It’s great to see so many items in your store that are made in L.A.

I try and source everything locally. Sustainability is so important to me. Right now, I love featuring a local maker every month and curate a small exhibition for each artist. This month it is ceramics, last month it was jewelry, next month it will be a mirror artist. I’m open to anyone who reaches out to me or comes into the store. It’s important to me to work with other people in the community.


It’s fun to see an IKEA cabinet-turned-greenhouse in person.

I had to try it out. The ferns and begonias are happy in there. Mine is simple compared to other ones I’ve seen that are so elaborate. There is even an Instagram page devoted to them: @ikeagreenhousecabinet

What’s your favorite plant?

I like easy plants. I have a few rare plants here but I mostly leave those to the rare plant specialists. I really like hoyas right now and the way they trail. I can’t wait for them to flower.

What distinguishes your shop from others?

Plants in ceramic pots
Ceramics by local artists.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

I like to think it’s the atmosphere and the energy we put out. I want it to feel like a neighborhood shop where we can chat and have a conversation with people. That’s why I have a couch in the shop — people can come in, sit down and relax if they feel like it.

People have told me the store is nice because it feels really homey in here. It helps them imagine how things are going to look in their home.

What do you see when you look ahead?

I would love to start doing workshops again. I know that people want to do Plant 101 and plant propagation, but I just don’t have enough space.

Even when baseball isn’t in season, Dodger Stadium is open for visitors to its botanic garden filled with drought-tolerant plants.

My dream is to have space for a little nursery. I’d like to open a second store.

A fortune teller told my mother that I’d take over the restaurant in five years, so I’m going with that prediction.


Belle Dankongkakul holds a "Krimson Queen" hoya
Dankongkakul holds her favorite plant, a “Krimson Queen” hoya.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)