The fun of dining at Gado Gado isn’t just in the menu. It’s also in its signature playful spirit.
While restaurants around the United States are figuring out how to shift their business to adapt to a new culinary landscape, some teams are having more success making it work. In Portland, Oregon, Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly, the owners of the hit Indonesian restaurant, Gado Gado, have not only figured out how to operate in a socially distanced manner that continues to draw customers (even inspiring them to open a second spot called Oma’s Takeaway), but they’ve managed to maintain the restaurant’s signature playful spirit along the way.
The fun of dining at Gado Gado is apparent in the amped-up flavors of its menu, which draws on Thomas’s Indonesian-Chinese heritage for dishes like Sumatran-style spicy beef rendang (served with coconut rice and a green chile tomatillo sambal), ayam lawar (a shredded chicken and coconut salad with galangal dressing), or a pandan jelly dessert. But it’s the restaurant’s thoughtful Peranakan-inspired design accents mixed in with some psychedelic vintage finds that truly make it an experience. Even now with a closed dining room, the Pisha-Dufflys have brought some of the restaurant’s bold design scheme to its two outdoor patios.
“When we were designing the restaurant, it felt like a really great opportunity to communicate ourselves through design,” says Mariah Pisha-Duffly. “There were a lot of spaces opening up around us that were extremely beautiful but minimal, and we wanted to go the opposite way and do something maximal and full of pattern.” When reimagining the dining room for the outdoors, the duo continued the theme with mismatched rugs, oilcloth tablecloths, and other delightful personal touches, all while trying to keep costs low.
Below, Mariah Pisha-Duffly explains how they made Gado Gado into a colorful outdoor oasis, and how to bring the Gado Gado brand of power-clashing onto your patio or into your home.
Remix your old stuff with new purpose
“When we started to rethink the patio for the year of COVID, it felt like working with what we had, and being really resourceful was necessary,” says Pisha-Duffly. “The bathrooms inside Gado Gado are filled with themed ’70s fantasy art. We brought this black light poster outside, and we made little word bubbles on it to let people know where to find their takeout. It didn’t used to be that you needed all these instructions for customers, but you do now, and we wanted to make it beautiful and fun.”
Shop it: Black light posters
Whether you place them in the bathroom or the bedroom, ’70s-style black light posters give the space a trippy element.
Add bold personal touches
“Thomas’s family is Chinese, but his grandmother lived in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, before coming to the U.S. You see a lot of Peranakan design throughout Southeast Asia — full of patterns, tiles, and intricate carvings. Inside, we have a big portrait of his grandmother painted on the wall by artist Kate Blairstone (she also did our amazing wallpaper with shellfish and birds) and a mask that my grandparents got while living in Indonesia. Whenever you collect something it tells the stories of who you are and what you like, and getting the opportunity to put that in the restaurant was really special.”
Shop it: Patterned wallpaper and paintings
Blairstone has made dozens of custom wall accents that speak to each individual owner’s story. Whether you fancy a version with oysters, flowers, or carrots, she’s available to make works on request that speak to one’s story. You can also find wallpaper with similar motifs on Etsy.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match
“Once I knew we were going to open Gado Gado, I could finally get all this thrift store stuff that I’ve wanted to buy for forever. I would go to Goodwill three or four days a week, just collecting things.”
Shop it now: Power-clashing vintage plates
Part of what makes dining at Gado Gado special is that none of the plates and glassware match, which means each time you dine there it might be a little different. The cornucopia of palettes somehow never feels like too much, but rather, it functions almost like a sewn-together quilt that uses a kaleidoscope of fabrics that come together beautifully. Vintage, granny-esque floral plates are given an exhilarating new life here.
Serve your drinks in ice cream sundae cups
“This summer we were doing a lot of slushy cocktails made with things like freshly juiced turmeric and ginger, tamarind, coconut, lime, and tequila. We like to add fun garnishes to them, too.”
Shop it now: Old-fashioned ice cream sundae cups
These clear glass tumblers are usually the vessels for heaping scoops of strawberry ice cream with a fudge swirl, whipped cream, and sprinkles, but they are equally useful for spicing up an after-work drink. Add a fun garnish to complete the effect.
Have fun with lights
“Initially we were doing takeout and delivery that was extremely no contact and figuring ways to make the experience personal and hospitable within the framework. We had a takeout tent with disco balls, flashing lights, and fake mangosteens — things that still communicated fun and warmth without physical contact. Someone called it a “block party for one.” And it’s true, we love rainbow lights, to the point that we have a giant fruit bowl full of LED remotes because at this point we own so many rainbow light set-ups.”
Shop it: Party lights
Bring the party back home with these funky light options. “For lighting we like to go really cheesy,” Pisha-Duffly says.
Incorporate more pattern with plants
“We worked with this great company called Appetite that brought us plants such as palms, yucca trees, succulents, and ginseng plants. They have fabric buckets, and when they stopped by they were like, ‘What color palette [are you] thinking of for the bases?’ and we were laughing, like, ‘Nothing is off the table, our restaurant is a rainbow.’”
Shop it now: Fabric planters
Make your table restaurant-worthy
“Oilcloth is so cool. It’s durable and it’s fairly inexpensive — we have versions with golden floral prints, orange, and a sort of blue and red floral thing happening.”
Shop it now: Oil cloth prints
As Eater has documented in the past, oilcloth is a popular choice for many restaurants, and you can bring it into your own space. Even the messiest of eaters won’t have trouble cleaning them, and the more tablecloth options you have, the more backdrops for taking Instagram-worthy food photos.
Bring rugs outdoors
“Having all the rugs outside was a fun way to create a sense of comfort that’s super affordable.”
Shop it now: Outdoor rugs
Rugs don’t only have to stay inside. These versions can bear the brunt of rainy Portland weather, bringing a little bit of sunshine as they do.
Emma Orlow is a writer for Eater, Grub Street, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and Bon Appétit (among others), where she covers the intersection of the food and design worlds. Celeste Noche is a Portland-based photographer.