Revealing Perspectives of 10 Career People Who Turned into Restaurateurs. Their Lives Changed Due to the Virus Crisis! Now, They’re Sending Encouragement to Other New Restaurateurs
Sep 24, 2021
Although they’re new, they’re up for the fight. We’re revealing the perspectives and history of 10 restaurateurs who turned their life crises due to Covid into opportunities to become restaurant owners and serve as a guideline for restaurant businesses with encouragement for all new restaurateurs to keep fighting!
He was the owner of the Beehive Phuket Old Town Hostel. During the first wave of Covid in 2020, Phuket Island was locked down in March. There were zero tourists. At first, his spirits remained high enough to give out food to other people facing hardship. He tried making clips and becoming a Youtuber. He made surfing clips to kill time, thinking that the crisis wouldn’t last long. Near the end-of-year peak season, he invested in renovating his hostel, expecting to welcome tourists during the New Year until 20 December 2020 when the government announced the second lock-down of the island. All of the customers disappeared, and so did all of his investment. Mr. Manosit ‘Nueng’ Chaengchob said that his love for bamee, which he can even eat seven days a week, made him learn how to make it. At first, he made it for himself at home. Later, he posted about it on Facebook until some friends commented about it and ordered it for themsevles or their employees. Many of them said it was delicious, so he started to sell it by delivery from January to March and earned a 5-figure income, which was just enough to pay for his expenses and wages for his employees. He continuously adjusted his bamee recipe until it was just right. Then, there was a short period when the island was open again during the 2020 Songkran Festival. There were some Thai tourists and the hostel was busy for a while, but the island was locked down again soon after.
The day the island was ordered to lock down on account of the third wave of Covid was the opening day for Jinhu Noodle whose outstanding point was the organic homemade noodles containing no preservatives. He developed his own recipe with the help of a friend who had graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. The friend advised him on dough kneading techniques and helped adjust the flavor. All of this and his skills in designing and creating brands from being in the hotel business made Jinhu Noodle known in just a short time. Today, people love his noodles. There are regular customers who constantly order them for delivery and visit his restaurant to dine. Every month, the sales double and he’s considering opening more branches along with developing an organic vegetable business, because there are so many orders that he’s struggling to keep up with. In addition, he’s planning to expand his smart farm for growing organic vegetables in anticipation of the upcoming vegetarian festival.
Mr. Nueng, the owner of Jinhu Noodle (Jinhu, meaning ‘golden tiger’ in Hokkien, is inspired by his father’s name), has some suggestions and encouragement for people who want to get into the restaurant business or those who are still confused about how to get through this crisis, “Many people are still waiting for tourism to recover, but they should have a backup plan. Covid will probably be with for us for a long time and may keep mutating. If you’re expecting to rely on the government alone, you’re probably in for a hard time. You need to find supplemental income. No matter what, you need to find a way to stand on your own feet. If you have something you like or know, use that first. I want to encourage everyone to try it out. You might find something better than what you had.” Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jinhunoodle
Khaw Kaeng Kin Keng Due to Covid, his wife’s tour company was stopped in its tracks, taking away his family’s income. If he continued to work as a company employee in the safe zone, the income wouldn’t be enough. To top that off, his wife had just had a baby. At a time like this, it’d be difficult to borrow anything from anyone. Mr. Natthakan ‘Mac’ Kingphat decided to quit his job as an engineer at a private company and open a southern-style curry restaurant and give it his all. Since he loves to eat and go around with his friends in the ‘kin keng’ gang, he named his restaurant ‘Khaw Kaeng Kin Keng’. But before he opened, he took two months to do some research and make preparations. He learned how to cook by using recipes he found on Youtube, but they weren’t to his liking. The food didn’t taste like any authentic southern-style food he’d ever eaten.
He decided to go home to Nakhon Si Thammarat and consult his mother who took him to the source of ingredients for southern-style curry in search of southern-style foods with flavors he’d enjoyed as a boy. He used this experience to develop his own recipes until they were just right. Then he started selling. He promoted the fact that his restaurant serves authentic southern-style curry unlike other restaurants. Other than the curry over rice, if anyone wanted other kinds of curry or side dishes, they could place orders and he’d make it immediately.
Mr. Mac told us that opening a new restaurant was like going to a new school. He didn’t know yet what he had to do, so he tried to learn and gradually solve his problems. He had to have a social media presence, launch ads to get known and join delivery platforms to expand his customer base. It took three months until he was known and more customers visited his restaurant, partly because the reviews in the apps were so good that people actually wanted to visit. After they tried the food, they spread the word and eventually became regulars. Today, he receives a 5-figure gross income daily.
Mr. Mac, the owner of Khaw Kaeng Kin Keng, offers encouragement for new restaurateurs and those who are feeling discouraged, “I was once at my wits’ end, too. But you’ve got to think and tell yourself to fight. Otherwise, things will get worse. If you fight, however, you can survive and you’ll find the answer to what you have to do. The next challenges will keep coming. First, you need a goal and then everything will work out in the end.”
For those who are thinking about opening a restaurant, don’t be afraid that there are already too many restaurants. Don’t be afraid that you won’t succeed. For restaurants, you need: 1. Good and unique flavors, 2. Food that looks appetizing on social media, and 3. Know-how for getting customers to repeat their orders by maintaining your food quality.
Steak Kon Kang Chaeng It started when her son, who loved to go hiking and loved eating steaks, asked his mother how to cook steaks, so he could take steak into the jungle without letting it spoil and using as little equipment as possible. Using her experience as a meat sales person and her acquaintances with several chefs, she researched each chef’s steak sauce recipes and compared them. Then she invented her own steak sauce. Once she had the recipe, her son suggested a concept to his mother, Ms. Walaiphan Okkitchawat who was already planning to retire at the end of 2020. Why not sell steaks from a food truck after her retirement?
She started selling during the holidays as a family business for after her retirement and named it Steak Kon Kang Chaeng, emphasizing the use of only a few pieces of equipment, so you can eat it anywhere. After the truck was completed, she tried the food truck out at an exhibition booth during Christmas in 2019 and earned over ten thousand baht. Her son was very happy. After that, she didn’t get a chance to sell again, because there weren’t any other holidays. Then a tragedy occurred. Her son was killed in an accident on 5 January 2020.
Ms. Walaiphan said she was devastated. Admittedly, she fell apart. She didn’t know what to do, but since she still had a regular job, she went to work as usual. When Covid came in March, the company had a policy to reduce employee salary since the company’s main customers were hotels, which were affected by Covid and needed to order less meat. This, in turn, heavily affected the company. After some income calculations, she found that her salary wouldn’t be enough to pay her bills, so she decided to quit her job and give her all to Steak Kon Kang Chaeng to fulfill her son’s dream and earn an income for herself and her family.
She started by parking the food truck at the side of the road near the entrance to an alley. On the first day, she earned 300 baht. On the second day, however, she earned over 3,000 baht. Even during Covid, there were a lot of customers and the customer base gradually built up. Today, she’s into her second year in the business and earning a 6-figure baht monthly income, which is considered a success. She now has a franchise with two more food trucks and is starting to sell the Steak Kon Kang Chaeng franchise. Most importantly, she has successfully fulfilled her son’s dream. That’s why she started sharing her experience with other people by teaching them how to make steaks for free and sometimes teaching marketing for free. She’s made food for people impacted by Covid and has even given many consultations on how to start a successful steak business.
Ms. Walaiphan wants to encourage people who are thinking about starting a restaurant, “Loss is a natural thing. I fell apart, too. But, how long are you going to keep feeling sorry? You’re allowed to feel discouraged. Take a little rest and then get up and fight on. I still have a business today. It doesn’t need to make me rich. It just has to make me enough money to live on until the day I die. In the past 40 years of work, my thoughts have always belonged to me. The company taught us to have a sense of belonging. Today, something actually belongs to me. I used to make a lot of profit for the company. Why couldn’t I make some for myself?
Hotel businesses were directly affected by the Covid crisis. Almost every hotel had to adapt to survive. Many of them had to lay off employees. Many places were still able to fight and negotiated reduced salaries with the employees in order to support the business. Mr. Natthakrit ‘Dax’ Sangthong, an assistant sales manager at a famous hotel in central Bangkok, was one of those employees. Originally, he had his salary, so he was fine. However, after a 50% salary deduction, it started to be insufficient, because the cost of living in the capital was still high, and even higher when he had to work from home. In addition, his family was concerned about him due to the growing severity of the Covid situation in Bangkok. So, he decided to go home to Trang Province and open ‘Rom Mangkhud’ breakfast restaurant, which operates between 6:30-10:30 am near his own house under the mangosteen tree after which the restaurant is named.
Mr. Natthakrit ‘Dax’ Sangthong said that he noticed the eating habits of people in Trang, which include several meals a day, and that there were no breakfast restaurants in his neighborhood. This plus his experience in the hotel business told him what customers want. He needed to make the restaurant’s ambiance nice for sit-down dining and develop outstanding menu items like Rom Mangkhud eggs, pan-fried eggs, etc. Most importantly, the prices need to be reasonable.
The restaurant opened on April 20th to excellent reviews. People loved it. Customers spread the word and reviewed it on social media until customers were pouring in regularly. Later on, he was getting more and more customers from out of town and earned over a thousand baht on a regular day and up to 2-3 thousand on weekends. During peak hours, he even has to bring out extra tables in addition to the original eight tables used in rotation during opening hours. Today, he’s still earning several thousand per day and always adjusting and creating new menu items and adding beverages like pulled tea, coffee and snacks.
Mr. Dax wants to encourage newbies in the restaurant business, or people out of work who want to try selling some food, to use him as an example. When you have to change, you have to look at shifting trends in location and society. You need a business plan and have to do your homework first. You have to be diligent and don’t underestimate what’s happening. Focus. You’ll be scared at first, but you have to try to fight. Use your experience from your previous job and apply it to your restaurant. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RomMangkhud
‘Nat the Voice’ was a singer at a nightclub in Chiang Mai who worked at events and can be heard on commercials. He’d been doing this for 10 years until the Covid pandemic made singing and event gigs all disappear. He’s had no work at all for the past two years. It wouldn’t work to wait out the situation. Luckily, his girlfriend’s father had a roti recipe, so he tried making his own signature roti recipes and sold them by delivery during the first and second waves of Covid. The sales were shockingly great.
Part of the reason was because the idea of ‘Nat the Voice’ selling roti was still popular, so people wanted to support it. However, once the third wave of Covid came, people were starting to go out. Their habits changed. The delivery sales dropped, so he figured it was time to open his own shop, because people wanted to sit down for meals. His focus was on regular customers and not tourists anymore. That way, he could have his own business that was stable, because he probably couldn’t just wait around for another job in the music field anymore.
Mr. Natthaphong ‘Nat’ Sincharoen decided to use his savings to open a roti shop with his girlfriend, Hasina, who was also affected by Covid because she worked at events. They named the shop ‘Hasina Roti’ after his girlfriend. They developed roti toppings like bananas, cheese and Nutella. In addition, they serve chicken-beef murtabak, chicken-beef curry sets and an assortment of drinks to customers.
During the first two months after opening the shop, sales were amazingly great. After that, the business started to stabilize. There were some months when sales were bad, but they fixed things by adding new menu items and joining delivery apps to boost sales channels while maintaining the quality and price. The shop is currently starting to stabilize, earning a 4-figure income daily. Although they can’t be casual with their expenses like when he was a singer, they can make a living without sinking into debt. In addition, he’s still accepting singing and voicing jobs when someone is willing to hire.
Mr. Nat wants to let people working in the same field know that whatever you can do right now, you should do it even if you don’t have the capital. Try starting by investing your savings. However much you have, go for it. Get up and do it. That’s how you know what you can or cannot handle. If you can take it, go for it! Especially people in the music business or organizers. You might feel discouraged for a while, but stay strong and don’t give up. Don’t wait. We’ll all get used to Covid. We have to live with it. Just keep thinking that the world has already changed.
Tour guiding is another profession directly affected by the Covid crisis. Mr. Kanphasit Damrongsitthinon, owner of Pladaw Seafood, told us that he used to be a tour guide on the Andaman Sea coast. There were a lot of tourists, especially foreigners. Once Covid appeared, all of the foreign tourists disappeared and there were barely any Thai tourists due to travel restrictions. In addition, tour guiding is a freelance business, so he wasn’t qualified to receive government aid, even though it’s a profession that boosts tourism as the Thai tourism frontier. At the time, he was feeling uncertain about how he was going to make a living.
Wherever he looked, all the shops were closed due to the absence of tourists. He decided to turn the crisis into an opportunity. If other shops were going to close, he’d stay open and swim against the current. Next, he noticed that there weren’t a lot of fresh seafood restaurants in downtown Trang. If you wanted to eat fresh seafood, you’d have to travel a long way to the beach. That’s how Pladaw Seafood was born by using the concept of serving fresh seafood without having to go to the beach. He brought fresh seafood to the town, using his expertise in seafood and his background as a Libong islander which makes him very familiar with seafood ingredient sources. . When the restaurant was first opened in May, people didn’t dare to dine in, so he added delivery services. He put a focus on creating a social media presence and selling while making preparations for the peak season opportunities in October. After selling for a while, he started getting regulars. Now he can’t close the restaurant. The income is reasonable. Although the income is higher some months, he uses it to pay his employees and support his restaurant. Then he puts some of it in his savings. However, what he’s really getting is experience and a name that customers can remember for when new opportunities arise when the situation is resolved in the future.
Mrs. Kanphasit wants to let people know that being a guide teaches you to be patient and tolerant. You go through every battle, every kind of pressure and sleepless nights. You get through it. Use your speaking and negotiation skills. Guides know how to make their own selling points and have service minds. Guides like us know what customers want, so think how far we could go if we created our own businesses. Many guides have moved on to establish their own businesses. We have to fight to survive. Take Pladaw Seafood, for example. We used the opportunity when everybody else was closed. We stayed open. That’s what makes us stand out and promotes the fact that we buy fresh ingredients from fishermen. And you have to carefully use that opportunity to do marketing. I plan to have my own fish enclosures and do mariculture to capitalize on the seafood business.
Another tour guide affected by the absence of tourists due to Covid, this restaurateur used to serve up to a million Chinese and Taiwanese tourists visiting Thailand every year. After he was left unemployed and without an income, he needed to find something to do. Mr. Atthaphon Saechang told us that when he was studying and living in Taiwan for over ten years, Taiwanese tea and aiyu jelly were very popular Taiwanese menu items. Aiyu jelly is considered very healthy. It helps with bowel movement, reduces cholesterol, reduces internal heat, quenches thirst and is rich in magnesium. He figured it’d be perfect for Thailand’s hot climate, so he imported aiyu seeds from Taiwan to try and make his own aiyu jelly. Later on, he created a new flavor of tea, sweet osmanthus tea, that had never existed in Thailand befirem and opened a kiosk under the name The Frog Prince Aiyu Natural Jelly, using premium-quality tea without any artificial color or fragrance from 101 Tea Plantation as the main ingredient, since his girlfriend’s family owns the 101 Tea Plantation.
In Taiwan, aiyu jelly sells very well. It’s made from aiyu fruit, which comes from the fig family. To process it, you need to cut the fruit, remove the seeds and try them. The seeds are then placed in a cloth and rubbed in water to extract the collagen gel. The gel sets naturally without any additives. Taiwanese women who are conscious about their appearance usually use aiyu gel for weight control.
Mr. Atthaphon also told us that sales were very good during the first wave of Covid, with over a hundred cups sold daily. People even offered to buy into the franchise. Although the sales have decreased during the second and third waves of Covid, the income is still enough to support him. In the future, he plans to sell franchises, but he’s waiting for the situation to improve first. He also plans to make ready-made aiyu jelly for sale.
Lastly, Mr. Atthaphon wants to let people know that crises can be opportunities. There’s a solution to every problem. You have to keep fighting and everything will get better. This year has been the worst. You have to fight for the family you have to support.
Originally, they sold grilled food at the Ratchaphruek Market in Phitsanulok. Because of Covid, fewer people walked in the market and the market was sometimes closed, so no one could sell there. They also had to stop selling, because they had to take care of someone at home. All of this made sisters Ms. Chonnikan ‘Joy’ and Ms. Chanankan Phichitphiriyakhon rethink how to earn an income during a situation like this. Eventually, they settled on khanom chin namya, because their aunt had a recipe for a southern-style khanom chin sauce. They learned how to make the southern-style sauce from their aunt and adjusted the recipe to make it their own. They rented an old restaurant space across the street from their home to open a khanom chin namya modin restaurant and named it Khanom Chin Modin Khunnai. The restaurant is located at a 4-way intersection and mainly serves khanom chin namya, with other menu items like khao soi, yam khanom chin, etc.
When the restaurant first opened, they sold very well, because they used media to help with promotion and they also kept posting on social media. The restaurant sold so well that they considered opening a second branch, but then the second wave of Covid came, so they had to stop selling for two months. When they reopened the restaurant, the sales dropped by half. Delivery sales also decreased, because the distance made the delivery fee expensive, so they decided to move the restaurant. They cancelled their rental agreement and went back across the street and renovated the front of their house, which was an auto repair shop, and opened the restaurant there where it remains to this day. Ms. Joy told us that the restaurant is 50% there. It’s a lot better than before. After the lifting of restrictions, a lot more people have been eating out. The situation is gradually improving. Without the second wave of Covid, they would’ve opened another branch and had more progress by now, but they’re not discouraged. They have to keep fighting. They chose to continue by moving the restaurant to the front of their house and down-sizing the business. It kept them going. They’ll keep doing it and gradually expand their restaurant. They won’t hire help yet. They prefer to keep it a family business for now. Lastly, they want to tell everyone that they want everyone to get up and fight another round. Keep your guard up, but keep working. Live by the sufficiency economy philosophy. You have to survive today. You can get a little government aid, but you have to survive and become an inspiration for everybody, because we’re in the trade business, too, but we never gave up.
Two best friends, Mr. Non and Mr. Tom, owners of Non Coffee Moka Pot & Burger Home Made in Ang Thong Province told us that Mr. Non used to be a welder, because his father is a ship repair contractor. Due to Covid, no work came in. They needed to find something to do and, since he was already a coffee lover, he opened Moka Pot coffee shop and sold coffee, tea, cocoa and assorted mixed beverages.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tom was a coffee shop employee who was also left unemployed, because the coffee shop was ordered closed due to Covid. After he saw that Non had opened a coffee shop, they consulted each other about what they could sell together. Eventually, they settled on burgers, since they had received an old stove from a relative in Bangkok. After fixing up the stove, Non had the idea to make burgers for selling. They’d never thought about making food to sell before, so they had to look up recipes on Youtube, try them out and adjust the recipes for about two weeks until they created their own recipe. They started selling burgers alongside the coffee only at the storefront or customers could contact them to place orders and pick them up at the storefront. They weren’t selling by delivery yet, because there weren’t any delivery services available in the area.
Right after opening the shop, the sales weren’t very good because people didn’t know about them. After doing some promotion on social media and joining Facebook groups for food vendors in Ang Thong, their sales gradually improved to the point where they couldn’t keep up with the orders. They had to buy a new burger grill. The coffee also sold well. These days, they don’t think the shop is well established just yet. Sales weren’t great during the lockdown, but they were still selling. They still have to improve the shop and are building a shop with seats with the intention of improving sales in the future.
Mr. Non and Mr. Tom want to tell people to get up and sell food because, although we’re going through a rough patch and many people are unemployed and starting something is hard, you have to keep fighting. You have to do whatever you can. Do what you like. Through trial and error, you might find something that’s right for you.
He was a chef at a famous Chinese restaurant in Chiang Mai with a salary of over 20,000 baht. Due to Covid, the Chinese tourists disappeared. The restaurant couldn’t bear the burden anymore, so they kept asking to reduce the employees’ salaries until they eventually were no longer able to hire them anymore. So, he had to quit his job in March 2020. Chef Siwan ‘Wan’ Suksabai told us that he’d never thought about doing anything else, because he’d never been unemployed before. He’d never considered pushing a food cart around to sell food, because he was embarrassed. He was like that for about a month. However, after finding himself waiting in a kilometer-long food handout line, he felt even more embarrassed.
Eventually, he figured that he had to fight, no matter what. He had responsibilities. He had children and grandchildren. He had car and house bills to pay. Even if he earned very little, it would beat standing in a line waiting for food handouts. If he didn’t struggle, he wouldn’t see a future. So, when he received the 5,000-baht government aid, he bought a second-hand cart. He fixed it up, decorated it and just started selling food. He sold only three menu items in boxes, kale and crispy pork, fried rice and pork basil stir-fry, for 25-30 baht. At first, he was a little embarrassed, because he'd never been out of work before. He’d never even pushed a food cart.
On his first day, he pushed his cart to the Mueang Mai Market with great results! He had so many customers that he couldn’t keep up. However, it wasn’t without obstacles, because someone called the authorities and told them that he had made a mess, so he was told to leave by a municipal officer. Later, the Chief Executive of the SAO told municipal officers to allow sales because it helped the unemployed during Covid. At first, he sold it alone. He couldn’t keep up. Later on, his daughter helped out a bit and things got better. He sold only in the evenings from 5:00 – 9:00 pm. During the day, he prepared the ingredients. His sales were over a thousand baht per day, which was just enough to live on each month. Later, the lines got so long that he had to give out cue cards. Reporters started showing up, which boosted his morale. Today, his business has expanded into Ton Pho by Chef Wan Covid-19 and also sells via delivery.
Chef Wan wants to let everybody know that you have to struggle for your life. You have to fight. Since you have that lesson with you, you don’t have to be afraid of starving. It’s like selling food because people have to eat. You can’t hold on to your job forever. You have to adjust according to the situation. In this Covid situation, if you don’t help yourself, who’s going to help you?