Goodview. Warm Up. Monkey Club: SUCCESS STORIES
The pub business in Chiang Mai is a finicky trade to ply, we have all witnessed the grand opening, subsequent demoralisation, followed by the inevitable ‘Closed Down’ sequence many times over in this fickle city. Sometimes a street’s vista can have a makeover every couple of years, with restaurants, bars, clubs and pubs, seemingly having the life span of a mosquito. Though there are a few night spots that have risen above the mire of dereliction and evaded the doldrums of bankruptcy. We talk to the founders and owners of the pubs that survived and ask them how they discovered longevity in a place where sustainability means precious little.
Meet Wutichai ‘Pu’ Jaisamak, Sira ‘Ee’ Suriyasak, Narapn ‘Ball’ Chotisan, Papart ‘Louis’ Morakodrijittakan, and Chatchai ‘Nang’ Pattamasukon, five young men who have made a huge success out of wanting to do what every concerned parent tells their kids not to do: hang out with their mates and drink.
A decade ago, the city’s nocturnal hot spots were few and far between, for young party people the options were frightening: face the slings and arrows of the cut throat lady-bar debacle or get smashed in a disco where you wore ear plugs and had little room to swing an ant. As the aforementioned crew, then in their early twenties, were not keen (enough) on the local scene, they decided to open their own spot where they’d be content if the profits paid for their drinks. Fast forward a decade and they own one of the biggest pubs in Chiang Mai: over 80 staff constantly buzz about, it’s a boardwalk for the paragons of Asian beauty, funkily designed and festooned with memorabilia, antiques, gadgets and neon enticements whose luminous glow attracts partygoers from as far as Bangkok.
Pu and Ee sat down with Citylife on a Friday night in Warm Up, just as it was filling up. “We opened just for fun, the first year the profits went in drinks,” says Pu, and explains that Warm Up started as a small scooter/classic bike pub, moving to a shop house near Goodview restaurant, then to a two-storey house – now Arcobaleno Italian Restaurant – and later to the present spot on Nimmanhaemin Road. “We had five employees at the first place…we were the cooks, cleaners, shoppers, service and DJs.” They explained the name came from their first pub being a place for a ‘warm-up’ drink before you set off to a disco, while the sun-set logo was emblematic of their then propulsion to watching the sun set and rise in the space of one session. Talking about the future, both lads were resolute that they didn’t want to move location again.
“In the past we didn’t plan this, it happened by itself; you can’t think too much or it won’t happen,” says Ee, and adds, “then at some point we realised it was more than just fun, it was a career.” Even though the five control large amounts of cash, staff and varying ideas they say they never fall out, “if we have a problem, we sort it out, we talk about it, find a middle road.” In the realms of music, they may have differences in opinion, but the middle road is evident in the layout of Warm Up: Hip-Hop in the main room, House in the Lounge and Rock/Indie in the Garden. Pu, (DJ Shaky) is also resident DJ in the lounge (his favourite part of the club) and a passionate exponent of the electronic beat. “The clients have different lifestyles so we accommodate that, we have students, foreigners, workers and they all want different things,” agreed Pu and Ee. They gingerly admit that Warm Up is often choc-o-bloc with startlingly beautiful girls. Three of the owners are already married, though Pu and Ee, the interviewees, have not yet taken the plunge. Surrounded every night by these gorgeous gals I ask them if it’s hard on their girlfriends or the other guys’ wives, “It’s been our job for years,” they say, “it’s a business, we had the business before we met the girls, they should understand that.”
For such young men with such large responsibilities they seem to take it all in their stride, “Things happened in the past that were difficult and they still happen now, but we’ve learned, we know what we are doing, with experience we’ve improved.” As for the dodgy economy and pernickety consumers, they don’t seem overly concerned, “We’ve had meetings, we’ve come up with strategies about how to keep the business going and take care of the customer, we’ll get through any crisis.” They then explain how Warm Up is not just a pub, it’s a huge conglomerate of likeminded buddies. Not only do the boys provide a place to get fuzzed and ruttish but they arrange mass pilgrimages to Pai and raves in the forest, maintaining as they did when they started, that they are in it for the themselves and their mates, who were, and still are, addicted to the shindig. Ee tells me he’s always been fond of the ‘exclusive discount’ while Pu explains it’s the music, the scene, the styles that get him going. It might seem to any young revellers that these guys have found the goose that lays the golden egg, and what might be confounding or enviable to some is that they didn’t bother looking too hard.
Warm Up will celebrate their decade long opening with an album called 10: 10 years. 10 artists and 10 charities, which will receive 10,000 baht each from the proceeds.
From a small noodle restaurant first known as Giaw Tiew Ling – Monkey Noodle – an innovative enterprise was born called Creative Monkey Co., Ltd. that is currently the parent company of Monkey Club on Nimmanhaemin Road and Mo’C Mo’L Restaurant and Coffee Shop on Huay Kaew Road. Walking through the maze of Monkey Club you enter the Creative Monkey offices, a funky expanse of glittering rooms, studios, a bar area all adorned with art décor. Nives Pirarak, or Tor, founder of the Monkey enterprise, talked to Citylife on the genesis of one of Chiang Mai’s most successful night spots. “I named it Monkey Noodle as I was born in the year of the monkey,” says Tor, “I’d just come back from Australia where I’d been studying my masters in communication arts.” He explained that what developed was not
exactly what he had had in mind. “I never dreamed of this really, I returned and needed to do something, I knew a chef who didn’t have a job and I wanted to do something for him so I opened the noodle place.” What quickly followed was almost instant success, even though he started with only 5,000 baht in his pocket, his small noodle place became a hit and so Tor earned the trust of his family and borrowed enough to expand his business. “After three months we changed the name to Monkey Club. I am not a businessman, never was, I’m more an of artist, but I also knew about marketing and advertising, so I created Monkey Club in the style I wanted and began to spread the name and logo throughout Chiang Mai.” In no time Monkey Club’s iconic yellow and black stickers could be seen all over the city and Tor’s noodle stop became a trendy restaurant, and then a heaving pub with live bands that housed a considerable amount of randy Millennials. He explained that the indoor pub at Monkey Club, crammed just about every night of the week, was an accident, saying that to reduce noise in the neighbourhood he built the inside part, which then became tremendously popular. “I didn’t succeed there on purpose, it was just an accident,” he says smiling.
Monkey Club flowered, and its destiny became entwined in the Nimmanhaemin renaissance, and with his new found success, money and confidence, Tor expanded even more. “I was always interested in architecture and once I made money from Monkey Club, quite a lot of money, I began to design my own homes, resorts, and restaurant, which was really a way to express myself.” His latest project was the design of a resort in Pai, and a school in Chiang Mai. “I had an idea in the past that I would open six places in Chiang Mai, I wanted to be making 1 billion a year, but since then my plans, my outlook, have changed.” Tor does not drink, and is not a proponent of the dissolute lifestyle. “I changed the target of my customer, I wanted an older clientele,” he explains, saying that he was not happy with so many young people drinking in his club.
Though during this economic crisis he admits to have lost a lot of money; he seems unbothered. “I had fun during the best of times, money in my pocket, and I happily spent it all. I opened Simm Bar, designed it myself and spent 17 million baht, but I never actually went in the place. I spent another 13 million on Mo’C Mo’L, I spent everything, that is what I wanted to do. After recently returning from my project in Pai I returned to an economic crisis, but I’m still having fun, no money, but happy.” His change of target clientele has lost him a considerable whack of cash, Tor explained his new brand of customer, slightly older than the previous, fears spending during the hard times, whereas the younger have no such fears as their money mainly comes from their parents. “A lot of problems have arisen, now I have to be here every day, be here with my five managers and work hard.” His goals, he says, have changed, he no longer thinks about the 1 billion a year. The King’s concept of ‘por piang’ ‘sufficient economy’ – a concept and appeal to reduce greed in society – helped him change his mind. “I have smaller targets now, and I’m happy with this.”
Possibly the piéce de résistance of all Chiang Mai pub success stories is the Goodview fairytale. Thirteen years ago Goodview sprung forth onto the banks of the Ping, seven years later another root sprouted on the Chao Phraya in Bangkok and most recently they’ve landed in Laos where they have a branch on the Mekong…next stop, a Goodview looking at salt water in Pattaya.
Tanit ‘Muad’ Choomsang is one of two men behind Goodview. Similar to the Warm Up owners, Muad explained that his opening a restaurant was purely because he wanted a place to eat and drink with his friends. “In 1996, when we opened, we had 32 tables, 4 partners, it was just a small place but we quickly had many customers and had to expand.” Muad graduated from Bristol University with an MA in Architecture, “When we draw a site analysis for a building in architecture we write whether each side of the building has a ‘good view’ or a ‘poor view’ so I thought it would work for the name of my place.” Muad seems shrewd, clever and obviously business minded, and with three, almost four Goodviews, one Maze restaurant, and a partnership in an architects firm (he is also the President of the Architect Association of Chiang Mai) he is a busy man. After worldwide travel, Muad says he understands international needs, he tells me that great care goes into the variety of styles at Goodview…”You can’t survive on one type of customer, for us, if you are Japanese, Thai, European or Chinese we can accommodate you, but this is not easy, a lot of work has to go into managing such variety of food, music, atmosphere.” He explains that the research that goes into keeping the customer happy is paramount, they analyse their customers’ eating habits, movements, attempt to understand the minds of their customers and staff by watching videos of their restaurants. “To survive you have to maintain standards,” he adds. “PR and marketing, logo and brand is all very important, at the start we put all our profits into making our name, what came out went straight back in. Nowadays all the profits go into our new branches.” With so much going on Muad explains that he still gets time with his wife and son, saying that the latest video technology makes his job much easier, he can watch over all his branches at the same time from one office and reports can be sent instantly. Muad adds that 60% of his staff has been at Goodview, Chiang Mai for over a decade. “We keep our staff happy and so get the best out of them, they know they can rise with us. Our present restaurant manager started off as a waitress over ten years ago, our chef started as a cook, we also arrange activities, trips away, parties and give them good food to eat while they’re here, if you take care of your staff, you get back in return.” The crisis, he says, is not a problem to him, “If you control costs you can make your business secure. You need a strategy, to know exactly how much you should buy, you must know your customer, and you won’t have any problems.”