Survive the Crisis! Giant Pizzas with an Assortment of Unusual Toppings; A-tee’s Giant Pizzas, Switching from a Tour Guide and Opening a Restaurant to Success
Jul 03, 2021
Not surprisingly, many restaurants and lives in the restaurant business have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, if you don’t give up during hard times, opportunity and hope is not completely gone. Take, for example, the story of Phongthawat Phetchamnong, former tour guide who was affected by Covid and, therefore, decided to brush up on the pizza-making skills he’d learned. Then he opened A-tee’s Giant Pizzas, the only restaurant in Khoksi Village, Khunthong Sub-district, Bua Yai District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, that sells coal-fired pizza made from fresh pizza dough, while creating all kinds of unusual Isan-style toppings until the pizzeria became so prosperous that many people have called in wanting to buy into the franchise.
Former Guide Survives Covid by Brushing up His Pizza Skills
Mr. Phongthawat Phetchamnong, former tour guide and founder of A-tee’s Giant Pizzas
“Before I became a guide, I used to work at a pizzeria in a hotel in Pattaya. I worked as a guide for 6-7 years, but when Covid came last year, everything stopped. I remember that last year on March 17, I had no work. Once I sent off the last group, there were no more tourists.
That’s when I decided to open a restaurant in Bangkok selling short-order dishes, hot pots and noodles. After 6-7 months, however, the Covid situation made it impossible to continue. I had no money, so I decided to go back to my hometown in Khorat to try and get back on my feet. At the time, I realized that when you invest in a restaurant and buy wood to decorate it, then have to shut down so you take out the wood, the wood immediately becomes scrap. I thought about what I should do next. I could make pizza and I’d travelled to many countries working as a guide, including Russia, England and Italy and had taken lessons on how to make pizza there, too.
So, I decided to open a pizzeria and learn from my mistakes when I opened the previous restaurant. I thought, if I was going to invest, I’d invest in a food truck this time because I could move and park it anywhere I want. It’s lucky that I graduated with a degree in mechanics. I designed a special pizza oven that supports two systems, gas and coal. It’s made from aluminum, which make it light, because it needs to be moved with the food truck, but it has a special design to enable good heat distribution.”
Actually, Mr. Phongthawat had planned on parking this truck at popular tourist attractions like the Asiatique. However, when the food truck was finished, the second wave of Covid came, so he decided to stay in his hometown. Since Nakhon Ratchasima has almost no pizzerias selling traditional coal-fired pizza made from fresh pizza dough, A-tee’s Giant Pizza attracted a lot of attention from the local Yamo Town residents.
A Hit with the Locals, Creating Unusual Isan-style Pizza Toppings
When it first opened, A-tee’s Giant Pizzas’ selling point was that it was a food truck with a specially designed coal-fired oven and homemade fresh pizza dough, which is a special recipe that blends together the Italian and Russian styles. At first, the truck offered over ten well-known standard toppings such as Hawaiian, ham-cheese, bacon-cheese, seafood, spinach-cheese, bacon-olive, tuna deluxe, salmon deluxe, margarita pizza, etc. Aside from the locals, there were some foreigners living in the area that responded well to the truck.
“Another one of our selling points is the assorted sizes of pizzas starting from 12”, 14”, 18”, 21”, 24”, 26” and up to 30”. They’re probably the largest pizzas in Thailand right now. Large pizzas are popular with customers that come in groups for things like birthday parties or other gatherings. We offer a free delivery service within a 5 km radius. As for the idea to invent unusual pizza toppings, it started when someone came by to sell red ant eggs one day. So, I bought some and tried cooking with them. As it turns out, the eggs pop in your mouth and the taste is quite good, so I added it to the menu.”
The unusual and creative red ant egg pizza uses locally available ingredients and displays Isan identity well, so it was quickly well-received by the residents of Bua Yai District and nearby areas in Nakhon Ratchasima. Word spread from one person to the next, making more people want to come and try it out.
And after the novel pizza topping like the red ant egg pizza was introduced, an army of other unusual pizza toppings followed like durian, ‘ding phasutha’ or fried frog, pupa, palm weevil, snakehead fish deluxe, ‘4G’ or 4 insects (including crickets, mole crickets, china and chipom), ‘three single men” (palm weevil, pupa and bamboo worm), bullfrog stir-fried with black pepper and, most recently, cannabis and bacon-cannabis, which only uses legally permitted cannabis.
What sets you apart is the selling point…If you want to do it, you have to go all the way.
“Our pizzeria’s daily sales are about 100 pizzas and up. And, on really good days, it’s gone up to 200 pizzas. The monthly income ranges from 1-2 hundred thousand baht. I think our not hesitating to invent new pizza toppings is what’s gotten our restaurant known with good response. Fortunately, when I do something, I like to go all the way. I have fun inventing new pizza toppings. We never stop doing it. That’s the selling point that makes us stand out and sets us apart from other restaurants.”
“In addition, choosing locally available ingredients like red ant eggs, insect larvae, etc., may seem odd to other people, but that’s what the locals here like to eat. I also try making them until I think the flavor is good and I’m sure it’s okay and then I bring it out to sell. You have to dare to try and offer new things and this uniqueness is the selling point that makes people spread the word. We’ve had people driving from hundreds of kilometers away to come and eat it, and we’ve been invited to go on media. There are pages that share our story. It’s great publicity for our restaurant.”
Debut of Isan’s Popular Pizza Franchise
After receiving good responses, Phongtawat was contacted by a lot of people wanting to buy into the ‘A-tee’s Giant Pizza’ franchise. This is considered a success that came very quickly after less than a year of opening the restaurant. The owner himself admits that it’s an unexpected success.
“Right now, many people are interested in buying into the franchise, about 10-12 people. I’m still open to it, but I’m thinking of only selling one branch to each province. Our franchise starts with about 40,099 baht and up. We’ll teach you how to make pizza, whether it’s the Italian or American style, and we’ll give you all the recipes and techniques, but that doesn’t include the oven.
If you import the oven, you might pay 2-3 hundred thousand baht or more, but if you buy our specially designed oven, the price starts at one hundred thousand baht or more, depending on the size you want. People who buy into our franchise and use the brand “A-tee’s Giant Pizzas” have to buy flour, sauce and cheese from us in order to control the standard quality. In addition, we have a system for taking care of our members. You can consult with us or if there are any problems with the oven. You can contact us any time”
If you’re interested in buying the A-tee’s Giant Pizzas franchise, you can contact and ask about the details through the A-tee’s Giant Pizzas or Nathefa Na Khorat Facebook page or call 062-373-7112.
Keep Learning…Never Stop Developing
Due to the unexpected turn of events brought about by Covid, a lot of other people are still facing the same situation. As the owner of A-tee’s Giant Pizzas who survived the crisis and successfully overcame the obstacles, we asked him to share what he learned with us.
“I think no matter where you are, in Bangkok, the provinces or wherever, if you’re determined to make a living and learn, you can survive. For example, I like to learn new things, whether as a restaurateur or a guide. Whenever I have free time, I always look for new things to learn. I’ve learned to make pillows and rubber mattresses, dehydrate fruits and install solar panels. I can do technical or mechanical work.
“Actually, although I can do many things, I don’t consider myself an expert in those things, because I barely survived the Covid situation myself. I’ve faced it all, not having money to pay for my car, my house and all kinds of other payments. However, I think that you should never give up and always try to learn new skills, like when I tried creating new pizza toppings. I think I’ll still continue to develop this business in the future. Right now, I’m trying to grow durian because our durian pizzas sell really well, but durian is costly.
So, if I could grow my own, I could save some money and open a restaurant inside the durian orchard. I also want to make up to 100-inch pizzas. I want to open a branch in Mueang Khorat using a new oven designed which is a conveyor belt system coal-fired oven. You have to never stop learning, developing and always looking for new opportunities. I think if everyone does this, they can survive the Covid crisis, too. And if they can do that, everyone will be stronger for it.”
Tips for Pioneering a Business during the Covid Situation:
· Make a creative difference.
· Don’t stop trying to invent new things and dare to introduce new things to the market such as pizzas with unusual toppings or the largest pizzas in Thailand.
· Know the local tastes. Do things that meet the needs and wants of customers such as creating an Isan-style pizza topping.
· Know the current trends, for example, since the cannabis trend is coming in strong, invent a cannabis pizza topping.
· Don’t give up or feel discouraged. Don’t stop learning, developing and always looking for new opportunities.