Photo by Thanis Sudto
Chaithep Pattarapornpaisarn - owner of upmarket Cantonese restaurant Lee Kitchen - jokes to those thinking of doing the same.
Preserve your youth and looks, rather than opening a restaurant.
"It's a tough business," says Chaithep, better known as "Mr Lee".
"If you don't have customers; you're out of business. Even if you've got lots of customers, you may go out of business anyway; the chef will ask for a pay rise."
So, Chaithep learnt to cook.
Chaithep owns three Lee Kitchen Chinese restaurants in Bangkok; the first opened in 1989 on New Chan Road. The others are at Thaniya Plaza on Silom Road and Lee Place Building on Ratchadaphisek Road. He still works the stoves for his long-time customers and helps his children create menus for their casual-dining Lee Cafes.
He says his chefs are paid between Bt30,000 and Bt50,000 a month.
Tunwa, Chaithep's son, learnt to cook. He got into the business about four years ago.
"Why can't management work in the kitchen?" the 27-year-old says.
"If your job is to run the restaurant, you must know how to cook and know what good food is like, too."
Lee Cafe offers east-west fusion cuisine for young workers on the go in the central business district. Pricey, fine dining Lee Kitchen specialises in family or business celebrations.
Tunwa, operator of the Lee Cafe, does not cook every day but he always gets in the kitchen and tastes the food.
"I carry clean spoons with me to taste the dishes - one dish for one new spoon.
"Or sometimes I only smell them. Just entering the restaurant and smelling the food ... I know if it tastes good or not.
"The customers must be happy when they walk out of the restaurant," says Tunwa, assistant project manager of Lee Family Company. "Everything must be satisfied. The quality of food must come first ... followed by atmosphere and service."
Tunwa regularly visits the six Lee Cafes as a customer and in his capacity as a quality-control manager.
The first cafe opened in 2004 at Erawan Bangkok shopping plaza. The other restaurants are at Siam Centre, Sukhumvit Soi 2, Suvarnabhumi Airport, Central World and Esplanade on Ratchadaphisek.
"Eating good food is happiness," says Chaithep. "And I want every of my customers to be happy when eating. When I eat out myself and the food is not good, I just pay and come home to cook."
The chefs are the key to a good restaurant.
When recruiting chefs, besides cooking, attitude must be taken into consideration. "Chefs must be open minded. They have to deal with the comments and learn new things."
Chefs must be service minded," he adds. "Chefs with bad tempers won't cook well."
The Pattarapornpaisarn family has a "no good, no pay" policy, says Chaithep. "Customers don't have to pay if the food is not good. But if they finish the food and still say it's not good, they have to pay double," he laughs.
By Rojana Manowalailao