Nearly five months after North Korea’s state-owned Pyongyang restaurant abruptly closed its doors to the public, loyal fans of the establishment could well be feasting upon its Korean cuisine before the end of the year, an official at the North Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh said Monday.
Ever since its closure in February, embassy officials and close acquaintances to Pyongyang’s manager, Ho Dae-sik, have shed little light on the reasons behind its sudden closure, inciting speculation that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong II had ordered the chain’s complete suspension—in Bangkok, Pattaya and Siem Reap—at the end of February for reasons that have thus far been cloaked in mystery.
“The restaurant will open as soon as possible,” said Lee Sung-juk, an adviser at the North Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh. “All I know is that it will open later this year.”
But when asked why the restaurant had shut down, Mr Lee simply put the blame on a fall-off in both Korean and Chinese visitors to the region.
“The restaurant shut due to practical reasons,” he said, adding that the worldwide economic crisis had had an effect on the restaurant’s finances.
It seems that members of Phnom Penh’s North Korean population are very keen to iron out any speculation that something more sinister occurred causing the popular restaurant to shutter.
According to a manager at the Daedongang Restaurant on Monivong Boulevard, which is Phnom Penh’s only other North Korean-owned restaurant, the speculation surrounding Pyongyang’s closure is nothing short of misplaced.
“Normally when several restaurants shut down all at once nothing is noticed,” he said, commenting on the attention the closure of one North Korean restaurant had received.
“I heard from the owners that the economic situation had forced them to close,” he added.
Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist based in Thailand wrote this week in the Korea Times, that the restaurant’s closure could mean “that Bureau 39, the international money-making arm of the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party which runs the restaurants and a host of other, more clandestine front companies in the region is acutely short of funds.”
“This could mean, even if those enterprises were set up to launder money, operational costs and a healthy cash-flow are still vital for their survival,” he added.
Adding to the intrigue around the Pyongyang restaurant, a South Korean woman who claimed to be a political analyst and well known to the Korean community in Cambodia, e-mailed a reporter to give her take on the closure.
The restaurant, the woman wrote in a series of e-mail messages, closed in the wake of Japanese media reports about alleged goings-on at the restaurant involving some of the pretty North Korean waitresses, who also put on nightly entertainment shows involving singing and choreographed dance routines, not unlike those seen at mass sporting events in North Korea.
“Upon reading the newspaper, [the] No 1 of North Korea got an
gry and ordered withdrawal,” wrote the woman who requested anonymity.
“It is true Pyongyang want[s] dollars, but doesn’t want money risking its reputation. As far as I know, they will reopen soon,” she added.