From Thai Takeaways to the Paragon of Spices
It’s not often that we find a pair of 34 year old best friends at the head of a rapidly growing restaurant and bar empire, but that’s the magic formula behind Christchurch based BBK Group.
Founded and lead by Bundit Kijpalakorn and Bo Khemarangsan, the pair started out buying and running the Thai Orchid takeaway shop in Stanmore Road while they were both still university students, then parlayed that experience into a chain of businesses that includes Japanese inspired Hachi Hachi (in Bush Inn, Riccarton and newly opened in Victoria Street), Thai fusion Spice Paragon (Bush Inn and Victoria Street), and the Sushi Co (Bush Inn).
Bundit’s NZ story began when his family moved to New Zealand from Thailand in 1995 and he went to school at St Kevin’s in Oamaru. Five years later, he moved to Christchurch to study engineering at UC and met fellow student Bo, who quickly became his best friend and business partner.
Rather than join their peers frequenting the local bars, Bundit and Bo invested their earnings in visiting nicer restaurants and traveling around the country to dine – every meal was market research as they developed a clear idea of what they liked and what worked – and what didn’t.
They took careful note of general environment, menu and service at each establishment and have put that research to good use in each new business they open.
After cutting their teeth in takeaways, they planned and developed the concept for Spice Paragon over several years, finally opening in April 2012 in the Bush Inn Centre. The timing was perfect, launching something very different in a city that was short of great places to eat after the earthquakes of 2010 and February 2011.
The focus of Spice Paragon was to provide a high end restaurant and bar that offered the very best of fresh, locally sourced Thai fusion food. Paragon is very different from the former Thai takeaway in all but one respect – the brilliant chef.
From virtually the first day of business it was obvious that Spice Paragon had the formula right, packed with diners every night making bookings essential.
Bundit and Bo drew on the success of Spice Paragon in that location to open sit-down Japanese sushi restaurant Hachi Hachi, then take over the St Pierre’s takeaway sushi bar and rebrand it as The Sushi Co.
Bundit says business for both outlets has been brisk, and puts success down to the quality of the food on offer. “You will find sushi varieties that are not available at any other outlets in the city,” he comments.
The Bush Inn Centre has flourished post-quake, along with Christchurch’s other malls, due to the demolition of most of the city’s central shopping and dining locations.
Onwards and upwards to their next outlet, a second Hachi Hachi, which recently joined other food and drink outlets in the increasingly busy Victoria Street. This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also has a bar, designed to appeal to people wanting a relaxed lunch or casual evening meal.
Once again, they got the formula right. “On the second day we opened, we had a queue of workers out the door wanting to buy sushi for breakfast,” Bundit says.
Fortuitously, the new Hachi Hachi is located right across the road from three major construction projects, benefiting now from the workers on site and ultimately from the new office workers who will be located there in a few month’s time.
Further down Victoria Street on the old Asko site, BBK’s latest project opens this week – a brand new Spice Paragon, alongside the Khao San Road Bar.
Building on the lessons learned from the first Spice Paragon, Bundit and his executive chef have been developing the menu for the last six months, carefully wine matching and ensuring that all kinds of diners will be well catered for.
The menu includes bar bites and miang designed to accompany drinks, small sharing plates designed for lunchtime dining and larger sharing plates for evening meals.
The classic ‘shared meal’ approach is further encouraged by the long dining tables, which are perfect for groups, or for smaller parties who are happy to share their dining space.
“All of this is about recreating a traditional Thai family dining environment,” says Bundit. “In Thailand, dining is a very social event and we enjoy sharing dishes, sampling lots of different flavours and eating together.
The Khao San Road bar, named after the popular Bangkok entertainment location, is designed to cater for local workers wanting to socialise after work and also addresses one of the issues at the Bush Inn Spice Paragon – not making the bar area large enough.
“We thought that a 20 seat bar would be enough, since no other Thai restaurants in town had a bar at all. But we found that people wanted to have a drink before their meal and the bar is always busy.”
The new restaurant will have seating for up to 140 diners, while the bar can handle up to about 100 patrons.
Secret of Success
Bundit says his approach to building the business has been to find other successful business people as role models – mostly outside of the hospitality industry.
“I see what we do as no different from any other product – each of my staff is a sales person and what we serve is our product.”
He also relies on a small group of carefully chosen suppliers and contractors as the core of the business.
“We find the best local suppliers and build a relationship with them, which makes it easier to open each new business.”
Bundit also consistently installs the best quality equipment in each restaurant, which includes SKOPE fridges and chillers.
“We emphasise fresh produce in our menus, so having chillers we can rely on is essential to the quality of our food,” he said.
The new Khao San Road bar also features SKOPE bar fridges as a distinctive design feature.
“We choose equipment that is high quality and from local suppliers where we can, so we know they are reliable and the servicing is not going to be an issue.”
He also really appreciates the high level of personal service he gets from SKOPE.
Perhaps most importantly, Bundit puts their success down to the fact that he is working with his best friend every day and he gets up in the morning and loves going to work.
“Friendships make the journey worthwhile – it’s not just a job”.