With a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York and outlets in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Tokyo, not to mention tea cruises along the Chao Phraya River, what’s next for this vibrant Bangkok entrepreneur?
Thanaruek Laoraowirodge was born in the Northeastern province of Khon Kaen, but it was his grandmother from Eastern Thailand who had the most influence on him during his formative years. I’ll let him explain for himself.
Being born in Khon Kaen, Northeast Thailand, can you tell us how you came to know and love Bangkok?
I studied in Khon Kaen until 6th grade, but it was always my father’s wish that I followed in his footsteps, as his education had been in Bangkok’s best schools and universities. I am more than happy to say that I did indeed follow his tracks, and am grateful to him for pushing me in that direction. I was actually a bit of a nerd in those days, always with my nose in an economics book, till late at night.
When you returned to Thailand after your studies in New York how was it that you came to point your energies towards the restaurant trade?
When I returned to Thailand after earning my Masters Degree in Economics from New York University, myself and some friends found ourselves hankering after the style of dining we had experienced in the States, and we opened Minibar Royale. There was nowhere else in Bangkok like it which is why it quickly became a popular hangout spot.
So, this was the power that ignited your enthusiasm for the restaurant trade?
Yes, it was, and in going forward, I wanted to use this initial venture into an industry I was not familiar with to offer a value-added dining experience. What better way to do this than to utilise the recipes of my grandmother; to give other people the chance to have the same memorable and happy experiences I had while growing up. The name of my restaurants and the river cruise is ‘Supanniga’ which was her favourite flower. There are no pretensions in my restaurants, come as you want, you will be made welcome, and can enjoy the best home-style cooking outside your own home.
What is the secret of your success in the restaurant industry? From small beginnings to eight outlets (one in NYC with a Michelin-star) and a Supanniga River Cruise?
My grandmother nurtured my love of home cooking. She came from Trat, in Eastern Thailand, and was the big boss of the house, and although never being trained professionally, she gave us recipes passed down through the family, which I have now fused with the tastes of the Central and Northeastern regions. And, it is also thanks to the influence of my grandmother that my restaurants and cruise have such an unpretentious, homely, welcoming feel and ambiance.
Where do you think the most exciting place in Bangkok is right now, for dining and entertainment?
I think Charoenkrung Road is the place to keep an eye on. There are nice boutique guesthouses, bars, cafes, and unique restaurants, with more coming online month by month. Bangkok is developing fast in a modern way, but it still keeps its charms and its cultural roots. I want to do the same.
Interview by Robin Westley Martin