Bangkok’s Restaurant KingWritten by Jane L
Behind every success story is some sound advice. Here, we checked in with serial entrepreneur and King of Thailand’s restaurant industry Rohit Sachdev, to find out what it takes to open a city’s latest hotspot.
Every city has one, the restaurant group that seems to be behind every second one of a metropolis’s happening openings, be that a hip new Peruvian joint or the next perfect spot for an artisanal pizza. In Hong Kong, that group, at the moment, seems to be Black Sheep, in Bangkok, it’s SOHO Hospitality, an F&B interior design and management company with their own portfolio of must-visit spots. “Everybody wants an experience, there is no secret,” says Rohit Sachdev, founder and CEO. “If you walk into a space and get that shiver down your spine – that is ultimately the X factor.” He talked to Hive Life about how he goes about capturing that magic, and along with it, his many customers’ imaginations.
Rohit didn’t start out in the restaurant industry – or as a huge success. He graduated from Stern Business School in New York before going on to start two tech companies that didn’t work out the way he had hoped. “I had to close them both down, but there was never really a doubt that I was going to continue to be a professional and an entrepreneur,” he says. His passion for restaurants developed gradually, mostly from the point of view of an avid consumer. Blown away by the then revolutionary design and experience of Ian Schrager’s Royalton Hotel in New York, he became inspired to deliver the same back home in Bangkok.
Launched as a creative studio and hospitality management company in 2010, SOHO started out developing projects for other giants before starting its own portfolio of restaurants in 2012 with the launch of Above Eleven, a Peruvian Japanese rooftop bar and restaurant that quickly became the latest Bangkok hotspot. Next up was their Charcoal Tandoor Grill & Mixology, a new, relaxed take on Indian cuisine that’s been feted by visitors and magazines, and then came Havana Social, the group’s 1940’s inspired Cuban cocktail bar in downtown Bangkok. Since then, they have also opened their Brasserie Cordonnier, bringing authentic Parisian chic to the city’s streets and delivered an authentic Italian pizza experience with their Cantina Wine Bar & Italian Kitchen. And, without divulging more, Rohit assures us there is plenty more to come on the horizon – including a hotel. “I have a cloud of ideas that I feel like are right for this market!” he says.
Underlying all Rohit’s various ventures is, firstly, a steadfast aversion to the flashy side of Bangkok’s restaurant scene. “We’re in the fun social dining business, not the fine-dining business,” he says. “By fun, I mean great food, great ambience and great service. Delivering value for money – not being pretentious.” And then, there’s a commitment to ‘experience.’ “To be successful in this industry, your venue has to be experience driven,” he states. “Venues and restaurants of SOHO let customers navigate through the space like a book being unfolded. Customers can really see the attention to detail that goes into delivering that.”
Take Havana Social’s secret ‘telephone booth’ as an example – a tiny box that visitors have to look out for on a dark street, dialling in a code to enter before a secret door is revealed. “You have to always ask yourself if you can deliver emotional connectivity to your customers. In the end, everything comes back to the X factor,” says Rohit. And, with it, a restaurant that captures the imagination of those on your doorstep and way further afield. As he puts it, “we really believe that our brands were not created for Bangkok, but created so they could compete with the best of the restaurants and brands globally.”
Determined to keep pushing the boundaries, Rohit has crafted SOHO into a company that reflects the future as much as it does where people want to go for a fun Friday night out. “As a team, we are very focused on sharing information, researching and understanding how things are changing,” he explains. They have implemented technology that gives precise data on how consumers are behaving within each of their restaurants whilst also paying attention to shifts on a macro level such as concepts and innovation so they keep up with changes in consumer behaviour – be those spending patterns or food choices. He is also committed to making a positive impact on the city he serves, with all food waste from the restaurants being sent daily to orphanages around Bangkok and a commitment to reducing single-use plastic. “Operating with purpose is not just marketing gimmick or campaign, but is really something I believe in,” he explains. “Having a sense of purpose is often a major motivation and what makes a business successful.” With its endless openings and big plans for the future, motivation is clearly something SOHO Hospitality isn’t short on.