Steamy Ambition [Bangkok Post, Thailand]
(Bangkok Post (Thailand) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 26--Coca may not be the first sukiyaki brand in Thai customers' minds, but it has established itself globally.
The US will be the last frontier for Coca, which will open a restaurant there late next year. It will be the final project for Pitaya Phanphensophon, 59, before he retires as chief executive of Coca Group.
"I've already made Coca a global brand after looking after the company for three decades," he said.
Coca Group has food brands in 13 markets worldwide including Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Dubai and Britain.
It will open the first Mango Tree with 600 square metres of space in City Centre, a new retail mall in Washington, in October 2014.
The new restaurant will be operated under a 50:50 joint venture between Coca Group and Richard Sandoval, the celebrity chef who owns a string of Mexican bars and restaurants in that country.
With 180 seats per restaurant, Mango Tree in the US will serve dinner and business lunch for US$50-70 per head. Fifteen Mango Tree branches are planned in the country over the next three years.
"Mango Tree serves Thai dishes with a unique Thai taste. We never adapt our menu to suit the locals in order to survive but rather choose to add local dishes to our menu," said Mr Pitaya.
His eldest daughter, Natalie, 28, who has studied food science and nutrition, was assigned to oversee Mango Tree in Washington and is now being trained in the US.
Mr Pitaya's other three children will help to build his food empire in the future.
His second son Ranet, 26, third daughter Robin Ravin, 24, and youngest son Nicholas Nirat, 22, have studied architecture, finance and law, respectively.
He recalled that Natalie did not agree with the idea of opening a restaurant in the US due to a lack of experience in that market.
"I respected her thoughts but said we should not miss an opportunity if it comes knocking on our door," Mr Pitaya said.
Apart from the US, Coca Group is updating its sukiyaki menu in Singapore and will open a new Coca sukiyaki restaurant in the Takashimaya shopping mall in the city state this October.
As well, it will add Hong Kong-style dim sum offerings at Coca restaurants in Japan.
Later this year, it will open a Coca branch and two or three Mango Tree cafes in the Philippines along with the first Mango Tree Bistro in India.
A restaurant is also planned for London's Heathrow airport.
"We take the time to learn each market but have still failed to penetrate China with Coca sukiyaki. Chinese perceptions of food value are different from ours. We're still seeking a long-term relationship with local partners," he said.
Coca Group has been successful in several countries, particularly Britain, the Philippines and Japan, where branch numbers of some restaurant brands are higher than in Thailand.
But it will move its sukiyaki business out of Australia, as consumers there have a different eating culture from Thais, tending not to share food in a communal manner, said Mr Pitaya.
Despite the failure in Australia, Coca Group enjoyed success when it introduced Mango Tree Thai to Britain 12 years ago. Mango Tree's reputation is good in that country, and Harrods approached him about opening a Mango Tree kiosk in its food hall.
Mr Pitaya said when doing business abroad, it is necessary to choose the right partners, ones with a similar vision as the company's in order to grow continuously.
It is not difficult to find ingredients to support expansion, as Thai food is very popular worldwide, he said.
"If our first restaurant in the US is not profitable, that's OK, as it will still be good exposure for our name," said Mr Pitaya.
At home, competition in sukiyaki business is intense, so Coca Group has renovated its branches in Siam Center and Sukhumvit Soi 39 and added dim sum made by three chefs to the menu.
A Mexican bar and restaurant will also be opened on Khao San Road next year.
Asked about what he wants the direction of Coca Group to be under the management of his children, the third generation, Mr Pitaya said with a grin: "I have four children, so the business should be four times bigger than it is under me."
(c)2013 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand)
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