Darkoo’s Chicken Shack, the East Dallas Laotian fried chicken restaurant owned by Donny Sirisavath and Jimmy Niwa that opened in March of this year, has unceremoniously closed, according to a report in D Magazine. The information included a note that Stockdale Investment Group, which leases the space, placed a sign on the restaurant’s door saying the locks were changed due to tenant default. Darkoo’s was recently added to the Eater Dallas list of 38 essential restaurants in the Metroplex for fall 2022 and noted as one of the best meals our editor ate in September.
The property owner, David Eitches, told Eater Dallas that Sirisavath has been trying to catch up on money owed to him “for years” and that the property management company tried to work out a deal to keep the doors open but were unable to do so. “His response was, ‘I will pay him back on my terms when I want to,’” Eitches says.
“This has been quite a battle between us and David and his group, pretty much since the get when we opened in 2019,” Sirisavath tells Eater Dallas. He says that while he is trying to work out a deal with the property management company, they asked for $8,000 of the amount he owes (which all parties agree is somewhere between $16,000 and $20,000) immediately to stop the lockout. “That’s my payroll,” Sirisavath says. “We barely make enough to cover expenses right now. This past month, we finally got into the green. We were in the red for the past six months. For us to dip into our savings just to pay that, we don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s our nest egg. We need it if something like equipment failure or HVAC maintenance comes up.”
As for the terms, Sirisavath tells Eater Dallas that the common area fees he and the other businesses on the property, including Pickletopia, Mia’s Restaurant (which is temporarily closed), and the currently shuttered space that used to be Top Round, weren’t being used to address upgrades and maintenance. Darkoo’s is located in a cluster of two buildings on Bryan Street in Old East Dallas. It shares walls with Mia’s and and Pickletopia, and the former Top Round just across the shared outdoor dining area. His list of issues includes deteriorating outdoor tables, a bad roof on the patio, a lack of landscaping, parking lot issues, outdoor lights that stopped working and were never replaced, and signs falling off the buildings. “We’ll re-evaluate [payment] when things get fixed,” Sirisavath tells Eater Dallas.
Eitches notes that only $2,000 of the back fees that Darkoo’s owes are for common area maintenance.“The other $18,000 are unpaid taxes and insurance,” he says. Eitches explains that the lease agreement includes yearly lump sums to cover taxes when the property appraisal comes. Eitches notes that the costs have increased with property value over the last two years.
Eitches also mentions that Darkoo’s has cycled through opening hours and notes that property management have reported going there only to find the location closed multiple times. Sirisavath says they’ve been trying different working hours to find the most profitable. While he characterizes the previous restaurant in that location, Khao Noodle Shop, as “a dining and destination experience,” he does not feel that is the case for Darkoo’s. After trying out a six-day-a-week schedule, he realized that they weren’t making enough money to cover payroll some days. For the summer, the restaurant tried “summer hours” and late night hours to capture the going out crowd. Since summer ended, Darkoo’s has only open Thursday through Sunday.
With the amount of money he says Darkoo’s is losing by not being open, Sirisavath is unsure how he will pay what the restaurant owes. And even if the lockout were lifted tomorrow, it wouldn’t be ready to reopen, with the chicken needing 24 hours to marinade and all the in-house prep work that has to be done to make sauces and side dishes.
“We’ve been open eight months,” Sirisavath says. It took five to barely make it. We’re in our groove and stride now. This happened, and it’s crushing us. With Eater giving us the essential restaurant, other food bloggers are coming to us. We want to be sustainable enough to pay our rent, finish our lease, and pay our staff. In danger of losing staff, laying off the team. Now, I won’t be able to pay rent or back pay if I’m not making sales.”
As for Eitches, he says: “I’d welcome working it out if [Sirisavath] has any intention of working things out, but he hasn’t demonstrated that in years... I told [my property management group] to make any deal they could with him.”
Update: October 20, 2022, 9:58 a.m.: Updated to include quotes from Donny Sirisavath and David Eitches and with comprehensive information about this restaurant closure.