Here’s how much it actually costs to make the khao soi at Khao San Road
A signature dish is what every restaurant dreams of having. But when that must-have menu item’s margins are tight, and the cost of making it fluctuates significantly based on essential imported ingredients, its popularity can be a mixed blessing. Such is the case for Khao San Road’s khao soi with beef, a $17.95 bowl of creamy golden curry made with coconut milk, egg noodles, scallions, coriander and fresh lime. “Unfortunately, Khao San Road has become known for the dish,” owner Monte Wan says. “And charging $20 for it just isn’t going to fly in this market right now. So profit is going to be tight.” When you order any restaurant dish, you’re paying for more than just what’s on your plate: You’re also paying for the plate itself, and a whole bunch of other stuff, too. Here’s every cent that goes into making this northern Thai specialty.
Ingredients: $8.90. Beef shank accounts for more than 60 per cent of the dish’s food cost. But the coconut milk, curry paste and spices ($1.89 combined) are the essential building blocks of the rich, flavourful broth, and this is where things can get tricky. “Imported curry paste and coconut milk are highly volatile to weather and currency trade,” Wan says. “They can double or triple in price.” Fresh egg noodles, delivered daily from Scarborough, add another $1.25. Garnishes add up to 26 cents: 10 cents apiece for a sliver of lime and pickled mustard greens, and 3 cents each for cilantro and scallions.
Labour: $4.20. The fast service at Khao San Road requires a staff of cooks, a chef de cuisine, runners, dishwashers, servers, plus a chef, chef de cuisine and a general manager. The khao soi is only one dish, but it takes about two hours to make the sauce, and another four hours to braise the beef shank in a bath of ginger, star anise, onion, coriander, cinnamon, pepper and sugar.
Overhead: $3.75. This includes monthly rent of $30,000, plus gas, water, building fees, unexpected repairs and replacing stolen cutlery and broken plates. Then there’s the 3 per cent credit card fees, interest on loans, social media, 60 cents to package each takeout order, and maintenance of equipment—including $25,000 per year for HVAC maintenance and $10,000 per year for grease trap cleaning. And of course, the odd return because a customer finds the dish too spicy.
Profit: $1.10. While the dish still makes money for the restaurant, the potential vagaries of the dish’s ingredients leave Wan in a precarious position. “If sales were to increase, I would have to limit its volume,” he says. “Not a fun situation.”