Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong,
vice-president of the Blue Elephant.
> interviewer: Iíd like to know the idea of the Blue Elephant, why do you select the Thai food, why not Japanese or Chinese, why Thai food?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: Iíd like to tell you the story how the group started. Initially we started with the three Thai partners and one European who is our chairman today. We started in Brussels in 1980 with the small restaurant. It was only forty capacities. One year later, we expanded to 120 to 130 capacities. It was very accepted by the consumers and the customers.
Our concept isÖ, we have three factors, ambience, food and services, all three have to come together. Like youíve seen here in the Blue Elephant London, when you stepped in, you are not in London but you are in Thailand.
For the food, we serve authentic Thai food. Many people think that Blue Elephant is not really Thai but in fact itís a Thai. It doesnít mean you have to throw down the spicy because spicy is not Thai food. For example, you can make Tom Yum Kung more or less spicy, at the end of the day, itís the Tom Yum Kung. The same as the chicken green curry, whether itís more or less spicy, in fact, itís the green curry.
> interviewer: So you are now expanding?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: Yes, weíre expanding. Including Thailand. We opened the second one in 1996 after we moved to Copenhagen in 1990 in Radison Hotel, Scandinavian hotel.
In 1991, the one in Paris. In 1997 we moved to middle east to Dubai. In 1997 we opened two branches in Dubai and in Delhi at Intercon and Grand Intercon.
1998 we opened in Beirut in Zerox Hotel, 1999 in Lyon in Hilton Hotel, 2000 in Morteau, 2002 in Bangkok, 2003 in Bahrain, 2004 in Kuwait, 2005 in Moscow. Altogether we operate for thirteen.
Weíve just signed the contract in Jeddah and hopefully to open in the middle of 2008. In Jarkarta is under construction. We expand.
> interviewer: All over the world?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: Indeed, well, weíre trying to expand as much as possible because we didnít step in Australian yet, not in North America neither United States. Once you go there itís a big door, they have the potential and we donít deny South Africa neither because South Africa is the potential market.
> interviewer: What are the strategies that you use for promotion on the Thai food in Blue Elephant?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: What we use, we stick in the concept, we will not compromise. The quality is the most important. The ingredients that we use have to be Thaiís. Thatís why we set up our trade office in Bangkok in order to export all the ingredients freshly to all our restaurants outside Thailand.
We stick on the quality. I would say all the ingredients are from Thailand except the fish meat, the seafood, we buy locally. All the less are from Thailand even the orchids, they are from Thailand. Itís the part of our concept, our decoration.
In any expansion, we remain the same. We have operating manual. Weíve tried to maintain our standard in order to expand faster.
> interviewer: I have heard that Blue Elephant has tried to keep the environment, like the customers stay in their home!
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: Yes, when they come to the restaurant, itís their destination. Theyíve decided to come to entertain here, they have to feel at home. So we provide them all the experiences. Once they stepped in, they are on the short trip to Thailand.
> interviewer: You donít have any problem even the ingredients that you get it from Thailand. How about the human resources?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: For the manpower, the key people are the chefs. For the chefs in each country, we apply the working permit for them. The key people are Thai and have to be Thai. And since we expand on franchise basis as well, when we opened we obliged our franchises to take the key people; managers and chefs to be Thai.
Any Thai chefs who have the experiences from other restaurants and hotels, when they joined us, they have to be trained to our standard. We have our standard recipes. If you go to Blue Elephant Brussels and you order Massaman, it has to be the same recipe as in London or as you bought in Bangkok. We keep the standard quality.
> interviewer: Then they have to be trained at the center?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: Of course, thatís why we set up in Bangkok. We have restaurant, training center and cooking school in the same place in order to train our chefs to be ready for sending oversea. They have to follow the same standard recipe of the Blue Elephant whatever experiences they have in the past.
> interviewer: In case of media for promotion on the Thai food, do you have any idea or suggestion for our project which media to be used and which is the best one(s)?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: I think, this day, IT is a part. Weíve used a lot of promotion through the internet, website and also we collected the customer database. We send them on regular basis about whatís happening and what we plan for and as well as weíve plans to work with your institute.
I have seen on the presentation that is very interesting because the consumers donít know what they can get from Thai food. This is in need to train the restaurants in order to pass the knowledge to the customers. That is very important and Iím really impressed with your research and the results that come out today. In case the restaurants expanded or opened the restaurants oversea, some countries have limited or have some restriction on the working permit, these things could help. It will be very helpful in the future
Actually, Thai food had different levels. It can be fine dining, casual dining and it can also be fast food. You can explain in different levels, in different ways. Thatís why there are rooms to expand and promote Thai food oversea. Of course, once you opened more Thai restaurants and you exported the agricultural products and ingredients, itíll bring money to the country.
> interviewer: If we have the same activities next year or other days, do you have any suggestion or comments which part of the world, or which countries or towns that we can do our activities?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: I think you know how now. It was to be introduced in any continentals, in America, in Europe, in Australia or anywhere because itís very important. IT can bring awareness because a lot of people donít know Thai food. Itís very important for you to introduce this concept.
> interviewer: Can you give some idea where to promote Thai food?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: Like in South America, thereís a big potential because those countries have to be discovered and explored. I believe thereís a big potential to expand Thai food oversea because Thai food is not very active in South America, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, all around the South America. I think there are room too since when they come to Thailand, they really appreciate Thai food.
> interviewer: Does Blue Elephant have any plan for expansion?
Mr. Taveesaek Bhuttavong: We will not move very fast. We are slow group. When we expand, we try to be sure before we move, we cannot make mistake. Once we made mistake, it brings our image down so if we move we have to be sure.
We have to make market survey, some feasibility study because our concept is quite high on investment.
If you see the decoration here, itís quite high investment but we try to make casual dining also because the investment is lower and I think we can move faster. And also we donít deny the fast food concept neither. But of course, if we get into the fast food concept, all the food have to be import from Thailand but sometimes thereíre restriction on the meat and seafood, but once you make the fast food you need the volume.
If I have to choose between the burger and the rice and Thai food, I prefer to have Thai food rather than burger. I think thereís a lot of rooms to expand Thai food.
> interviewer: Ok, thank you very much.