The accidental restaurateur

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Rama V offers Thai fine dining within a cosy environment.Rama V offers Thai fine dining within a cosy environment.Rama V offers Thai fine dining within a cosy environment.

Some entrepreneurs know from the start what kind of business they want to be in. But some just fall into the business and end up sticking with it. This doesn’t happen so much with the food business, where usually the business owners are cooks or chefs themselves, but it was the case with Andre Shum who worked in the financial markets before becoming a restaurateur.

Andre loves good food and he can do a little cooking but he never imagined running a fine dining establishment. He got into the restaurant business after a close friend, who owned the Rama V restaurant wanted to give up on the business. “I thought I could make a quick buck by brokering the restaurant deal and getting a buyer to come in,” he recalls. “But the economy wasn’t doing too good at the time and there were no takers.”

Rama V Outdoors

Rama V Outdoors

Another friend encouraged Andre to take over the restaurant himself since he loved the food there. Even after he had decided to buy over the place, Andre never expected to be so involved in the business. “But while spending time at Rama V, I realized how much I liked being there,” he says. “I guess I accidentally became a restaurateur.”

One of the challenges he faced was that the restaurant was situated inside an old converted bungalow. “Constant refurbishments had to be done,” he recalls. “And before we could complete work on one area, another part of the house would start to give way.”

But having to renovate the restaurant was a small problem compared to the bigger one looming over the industry. With many new restaurants emerging all the time, competition in the food and beverage industry is high.

Andre Chatting with Customers

Andre Chatting with Customers

To stay viable, a restaurant can’t just rely on serving good food anymore. In the case of Rama V, a Thai fine dining restaurant with a high-end clientele, ambience and experience is critical to its success. “I always say to my staff: ‘Today it is not just about the food but also the overall experience, so give your customers an experience they will never forget’,” says Andre (centre in pic).

Innovation is also key. Since taking over Rama V, Andre and his business partner have opened up another Thai restaurant called Fa-Ying in Paradigm Mall, which serves Thai fusion food.

According to Andre, there are many Thai restaurants in Malaysia but they all serve pretty much the same food. Quality might be different but the type of food is the same. “With Fa-Ying, we have modernized Thai food,” he says. “I’d like to think with Fa-Ying, we have brought Thai cuisine in Malaysia to another level.”

Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t come from a traditional or conservative restaurant background, but rather the financial services industry, Andre is not averse to doing rather unconventional things that might horrify most restaurant owners.

For example, one of the plans for this year is to open up cooking classes at the restaurant itself, to teach customers how to cook their favourite Thai dishes. “My plan is to create this whole experience of having to make your own dish in the cooking class and then try out your own cooking – along with other dishes cooked up by us, of course,” he says. “This is something a bit out of the ordinary but it’s about the unique experience we want to create for our customers.”

Andre is also looking at making their popular curry pastes and sauces available for sale as products. “Rama V has been around for 21 years and it has somewhat built a brand name, so why not make the most of that and package these paste and sauces for sale?” he remarks.

Thinking out of the box and doing innovative things is a necessity not a luxury, according to Andre. “This all comes back to the F&B industry operating in a very challenging environment,” he says. “We need to diversify and expand our offerings. Serving good food alone won’t cut it anymore.”

Rama V from the Back

Rama V from the Back

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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