“It’s not what you get with Deliveroo”, Red Snapper’s Pam and Philippe tell Gilly Smith
Panwad (Pam) ManeeTapho and her Belgian husband Philippe Ghenet are sitting at a table as the early autumn sunlight pours into the Red Snapper, until lockdown one of the most popular restaurants in Seven Dials. They’re talking about their plans to expand it into a casual lunch stop, a couple of tables outside and three inside. It’s all suitably distanced, which will add to the transformation of the busy buzzy evening eatery.
The restaurant, which has always been a celebration of the fresh seafood and herb-flavoured dishes from their eastern Thailand home, has been replaced by a shop where customers can browse through the restaurant’s silver starter plates, the stacks of gluten-free fish sauce and Thai ginger shots stacked on the upcycled shelving. An orange 1977 Honda Novio scooter is the centrepiece, a cool, vintage reminder of where Red Snapper comes from.
“That’s my mum’s” says Pam. The couple plan to use it for deliveries. “Imagine that turning up outside your door”, Philippe smiles. “It’s not what you get with Deliveroo.”
Red Snapper is a triumph of creativity and lockdown lateral thinking. “We saw it coming” says Philippe who grew up in Italy and heard from relatives there what COVID was already doing to its economy. “It’s the end of the world, right? In a way it was like, come on guys, this is Nostradamus!”
At first, the couple held their heads in their hands, but they quickly realised that lock-down could give them time to think about what they really wanted from their life. “After 16 years of working in the restaurant, sweeping, cooking, cleaning, it was spinning so fast that sometimes we didn’t have time to stop and think which way we want to channel the business”, says Pam who with her younger sister has worked with her parents in the restaurant since she was 16. “Four months of lockdown made us think, think, think, write down, plan, plan, plan. Which path are we going to take?” For them, it was always about the food. “We know what our customers like and what we can offer,” says Pam. It’s the quality of the food. The flowery stuff, the service, the music, the smells, the incense, the candles… it all comes after.”
They decided to offer the best take-away experience they could; while Pam and her father, Turmphan cook downstairs, Philippe chats to their customers upstairs, telling his stories and charming them with his laid-back style. “I like it this way. We’re done by 9pm and I can watch a movie with my son.”
They first shared a flat when Philippe had just graduated in Media at Brighton University and Pam was studying Art, Design & Fashion at Northbrooke College, and they’ve spent months using their creativity, repurposing items from home for this cool, new look. “That was where we stored our linens,” says Philippe pointing to the beautifully battered vintage suitcase now housing an old set of scales and a pink neon heart light. “We choose to be our own bosses, so we might as well add our identity.”
He sees Red Snapper as a Thai market-style café. “Maybe you’re coming back from town; Churchill Square is closed but you still want to have a coffee”, he says. “We like to be a bit of a community market where you can pop in and get some ginger tea. Or maybe just a take-away.”
As we sit in the late summer sunshine, nine-year-old Finlay is on his second day back at school and Pam and Philippe are feeling philosophical. As working owners, school is an essential part of the child-care, hence the move to daytime food which will reflect the ethos of the original Snapper; accessible, but made in-house from scratch.
“We offer passion” says Pam. “This is our career, our life. Before COVID we were too busy, we had too much to lose. We might as well shape the life that we want.”