Nikolaus and Sherry Prachensky are a fascinating couple who own a couple of equally intriguing businesses. Niki, as he prefers to be called, is a distinguished looking 53 year old who speaks with a gravelly voice, laced with his Austrian accent on passions du jour; sometimes a vocal proponent for healthy lifestyles, waxing poetic about meditation and qigong, at other times he loves nothing more than a good discussion on fine dining and wines. Sherry, originally from Bangkok, while slightly quieter and more reticent, may appear less extroverted, but is in fact the steely bookkeeper and business woman who turns her husband’s ambitious dreams into a business reality.
Born in Vienna, Niki is the son of two successful artists, his father Markus Prachensky being one of Austria’s most prominent and important artists. After leaving high school, young Niki bade farewell to his homeland and began an eclectic and eccentric career which ranged from working in food and beverage for hotels such as the Hilton and the Marriott in Holland and Italy, to being a restaurateur in both Vienna, where he opened the city’s first nouvelle cuisine restaurant, and with two childhood friends – Baron Peter Handel-Mazzetti and Felix Kastner – in Bangkok’s Lang Suan, where his restaurant Bolero became very popular for its artistic and trendy vibe. He has also worked in outfitting motor yachts in Singapore, was appointed president of Fashion TV Asia, introducing it to Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan, and spent more than a decade developing and managing a garment business in Bangkok, building it up from 12 to 2000 employees.
Arriving in Thailand in 1980, he has been here more on than off ever since, and while recently married (in the much-hyped and TAT-promoted mass hot air balloon wedding ceremony last February), has been with Sherry for sixteen years, the couple moving to Chiang Mai in 1997. When Citylife first met the pair nearly a decade ago, they had opened a spa on their property behind Lanna hospital, being one of the first spas to open in what is now pretty much spa-city. Each room of the Garden Spa was exotically designed with pa-kua Chinese octagon and Polynesian influences. Though the spa has since closed, the pair had also founded, at the same time, Siamese Traders, a company dedicated to sourcing delicious natural and organic foods and, especially, teas for connoisseur food buyers in Europe, the United States and five star hotels here in Thailand. Siamese Traders is still exporting Thai teas, though Niki regrets that Thai teas are not at the same competitive levels as some other world teas.
In 2000 a childhood friend of Niki’s, whose family owns the biggest collection of turn of the last century avant-guard silver in Austria came to visit. He had an interesting proposition: he wished to reproduce, not only in design, but also in method, a selection of his family’s silver collection. In 1903 the Wiener Werkstétte (Vienna Workshop) was founded, a production community of Austria’s visual artists: architects, artists and designers (notable members included Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele). Much lighter and simplified than the gilded and ornamental baroque designs of old, Niki’s friend’s family collection included some of the most admired silver pieces by architect and designer Joseph Hoffman, among many other designers. Having been to Birmingham, a city once renowned for its silversmiths, his friend was disappointed to discover that there was a dearth of truly skilled silversmiths. With the downgrade of silver as a precious metal over the past century, and the increased popularity of casting, the art of hand crafted silver was dying a rapid death. Niki immediately contacted local company Nova Collection who began work on a few prototypes. Though each piece took sometimes months to create, and craftsmen even longer to train, the results were spectacular, and although Nova Collection are no longer involved with the Prachensky’s business, ‘First Edition’, they helped to source quality Chiang Mai craftsmen for them. Training the craftsmen was also a painstaking job, taking months of research into old papers and historical documents to meticulously and mercilessly learn how to replicate exactly how the original pieces were made. Each piece, whether a brooch or a desk ornament, is only made in serialised collections of five or ten and can retail for anywhere between five to nine thousand dollars a piece, though Niki explains that the original pieces would sell at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Highly regarded, First Edition has been featured in magazines world wide, notably in Departures, American Express’s magazine exclusive to its platinum and centurion (black) card holders. Clients also include Woody Allen and Vladimir Putin, both of whom are the proud owners of a 6000 dollar Japanese-inspired ink set desk ornament designed by Joseph Hoffman.
If these businesses weren’t ambitious enough, Niki, who claims he is always gung-ho for a challenge, has embarked on yet another project. Having recently bought two and a half rai of land in Mae Rim, and converted an old restaurant into a factory, the Prachenskys are soon to export alcohol to Europe. It is almost possible to get drunk when walking into the stylish reception, where Niki’s father’s vibrant and powerful paintings adorn the walls – the collection of ten, a wedding gift.
It was during a 2005 meeting at Niki’s friend, Prince Haik-Georg Zarian’s residence in Bangkok, that he was introduced to his latest business partner, Count Maximillian Coreth (whose 2008 family portrait, which hangs next to a Markus Prachensky, includes a beaming HM Queen Sirikit, a recent visitor to the family estate near Salzburg).
In 1772, an ancestor of Count Coreth received his title from the Imperial Court of the Austria-Hapsburg Empire, and with it the license to distil. Since then the family, which owns a large orchard, has dabbled with cider and fruit spirits. Recognising that Thailand produces some of the best fruits in the world, and year round at that, the friends began to discuss their new venture, which was formally launched in 2007 and is called ‘Edelbrand 1772’, the Austrian term for premium grade schnaps. Though the company has yet to launch its tropical schnaps, Edlebrand, owned by Sherry, who has the license to produce distilled clear spirits, has already received awards from the prestigious Destillata, the world’s leading competition for sprits: 2008 gold awards for sapodilla and pomelo spirits and 2009 gold awards for passion fruit and lychee spirits, as well as plenty of silver and bronze awards.
Though the stylishly designed bottles will not be arriving until late December, a sample of the lychee, banana and passion fruit spirits, poured from a plain bottle reveal a delightfully delicate bouquet; while a sip, at 40% alcohol, kicks straight through the stomach, a la schnaps. Bottles are expected to retail for around 100 dollars, so we shan’t be able to pick up one at the local Seven Eleven, but Niki expects Chiang Mai’s top hotels and restaurants to carry his products by later next year. Because of the high quality, the process is slow and Edelbrand doesn’t expect to produce more than 30,000 bottles per year.
Last year the Prachenskys invited world renowned master mixologist, Allen Katz, to sample their tropical schnaps and work on creating a few cocktails, and has high hopes for his new venture’s success and popularity.
With a man who enjoys sipping oolong as much as schnapps, and who has proven time and again that he is not shy of a challenge, and a woman who makes it all work, we wonder what their next venture will be. We will keep you updated. Prost!