Food for the Future

"After some basic training, everyone gets treated to the same salary and the same level of respect as the rest of the staff," says Nayoon. "We all work together. It doesn't matter where you come from, if you're stateless or poor. Here, the hope is that everyone can have a future."

By | Sun 1 Dec 2013

Getting a job as a young, inexperienced person is hard. But imagine how much harder it is when you’re also an undocumented immigrant with no money or job training? This is the problem that OYORI Asia, a social enterprise based in Korea, has set out to address.

Having successfully operated their flagship restaurant in Seoul since 2009, the global social franchise has been dedicated to providing job training for migrant women and youth since expanding to Nepal and Thailand. In October, local director Nayoon Hoe teamed up with two other local NGOs to staff Thailand’s first restaurant, OYORI The Grill, in a prime Chiang Mai location just off Sirimankalajarn Road.

The local partners, Grace International School (GIS) and No Drugs Rule (NDR), are both directed at providing better opportunities for disadvantaged youth – although the two work in very different ways. GIS is a Christian nonprofit that seeks to provide quality education for the children of migrant workers located in Southeast Asia, while NDR strives to take young criminals and gang members off drugs and out of the streets.

Both groups are able to provide a great deal of assistance to the youth they support, but as nonprofits their options are limited as far as job opportunities go, making the newfound partnership with OYORI a win-win for everyone. OYORI The Grill is an excellent introduction to Thailand’s growing food and hospitality industries, from both the cooking and service sides.

“For many businesses, it is considered a waste of time and money to hire inexperienced people who need to be trained,” says Nayoon. “OYORI is like an internship programme. We are a small restaurant so we cannot employ many people at a time, but we can open up more possibilities to them. If young people want to work, we will give them a chance.”

At the restaurant, a bright and airy place with simple, clean design and an outdoor patio, Nayoon points to one teenager, a tall 19-year-old named Paint (because “he likes painting!”). Just out of school, Paint was spending most of his time hanging around in the streets. He had no idea about his future, nor a lot of hope, but his involvement with NDR brought him to OYORI, where he is now one of the most promising trainees.

“He has a sensitive hand,” says Nayoon, “which has served him well in the kitchen!”

Nayoon holds her trainees to a high set of standards – professionalism is required and anyone who misses work three times during the training programme without a valid excuse will be kicked out – but those who are willing to put in the time and effort will be rewarded, and there are no hierarchies here. This becomes clear upon entering the restaurant; while the trainees obviously hold great respect for Nayoon, she makes no efforts to hold herself above, wearing the same uniform and digging straight into the food business alongside them.

“After some basic training, everyone gets treated to the same salary and the same level of respect as the rest of the staff,” says Nayoon. “We all work together. It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you’re stateless or poor. Here, the hope is that everyone can have a future.”

OYORI is already making a splash in Chiang Mai, both for its efforts to provide assistance to those in need and its ability to bring together various nonprofit organisations in the pursuit of common goals. In addition to working directly with other local nonprofits, Nayoon hopes to encourage NGO workers to gather together and share their visions and plans through a series of group dinners and informal symposiums that will take place at the restaurant.

“Chiang Mai is full of people who are open-minded to social problems,” says Nayoon. “And food is a good way to connect people.”

Speaking of food, OYORI The Grill serves up some seriously scrumptious sustenance. Their specialty is protein dishes, from the honey-glazed duck steak with lentils to the salt and pepper soft-shell crab to the tender soy-glazed salmon served on a bed of fresh veggies, along with an unlimited local and organic salad bar and yummy homemade desserts. There are lunch specials (50 percent off the salad bar if you buy an item from the grill menu for lunch) and special BBQ party dinner deals available for groups of six or more. They even have a weekly wine buffet, where unlimited wine and sangria will cost you only 270 baht from 5 – 7 p.m. and 350 baht after 7 p.m.

So, what are you waiting for?

Open daily, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Closed Mondays)
14/6 Soi 11, Sirimangkalajarn Road
053 213 175