BQ Yorkshire Editor Mike Hughes pulls up a chair at the table of Kim Kaewkraikhot and Martin Stead.
A wave of outstanding cooking and innovative chefs has helped change the face of cities and towns across Yorkshire. It has made them destinations worthy of a decent drive and has spurred many development projects to cope with the influx of discerning diners.
The Thai Leisure Group, a group of restaurants and bars owned jointly by Kim Kaewkraikhot and Martin Stead, has certainly played its part.
The couple’s first restaurant in the Chaophraya chain opened in Leeds in 2004 and laid the foundations for another ten in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Aberdeen.
Kim started off cooking food on the streets of Bangkok and eventually opened up her own small restaurant in the city. Her food became well known in the local neighbourhood and her recipes, including her secret Pad Thai recipe, led to a number of awards.
When Martin, a UK entrepreneur, met Kim the recipe was perfected: to bring authentic Thai cuisine and hospitality to the UK. A multi-million pound investment from Santander has supported the expansion and also the roll out of the street-food brand, Thaikhun, which launched last summer and is proving hugely successful at Spinningfields in Manchester and Union Square in Aberdeen.
TLG will use the new funding to realise its plans to open a further five sites this year, six more throughout 2016 and up to eight in 2017. The first of these new openings will be in Oxford and Cambridge and the group’s ultimate aim is to push out in a form of ‘pincer movement’ towards London.
The business has reported like for like sales growth of 9% over the last year, with current turnover, annualised on existing sites of £26m and serving around 26,000 customers per week.
Martin said: “This is certainly an exciting time for Kim and I. Ten years ago we opened our first Chaophraya in Leeds, and here we are about to embark on the next stage of a thrilling journey. I feel we are well positioned in a market which is very buoyant. We have the right people in place and have now secured a significant investment, which places us in a strong position to be able to push forward with new openings.”
For Kim, the dream is still as fresh as her first foray into the kitchen back in Thailand. “I never once imagined that I would come from a street cart to owning so many restaurants, which cook for hundreds of regular customers. I love what I do, I work with some amazing people, I’m so proud of what I have achieved. It’s amazing…wow!”
Her ingredients for success, alongside an obvious passion and determination, drill deeply into her heritage and cover four Thai lessons that she has learned and is now passing on to her staff.
Ow Jai Sai – the family motto which is a Thai phrase meaning “care from the heart”.
Samakee – working as a team, supporting one another, and using your initiative to make things happen.
Ha Dao – believing in and delivering a superb service to our guests, making them feel special.
Sanook – smiling, having fun, being your natural self. Kim and Martin will be well aware of the importance of balance to make the customer happy. A little too much of that, or not enough of something else, is as important in the market as it is on the table.
The restaurant sector is hugely rewarding, but challenging, with instant reviews of the product you have just made, but if Kim can keep her Thai heritage and standards at the top of the menu – look out London....