(Credits to: PROW’s Facebook page)
As part of my interest in covering friends & seeing where they are now (especially if they’ve ventured onto their own entrepreneurial journey), I’d like to introduce my friend who I met back when we were studying at London College of Fashion together. While I was in the MA Strategic Fashion Marketing stream, Aura was in the MA Fashion Retail class. During the time we were in London, Aura (aka Aor) and I became close friends.
Since our London days, Aura’s moved back to Bangkok, Thailand (and I’ve moved to Hong Kong) and while she did initially pursue a career in the fashion industry doing digital marketing related activities, she left after a year to take a break and explore other interests instead.
Just over a year ago, Aura embarked on an entrepreneurial journey in the food & beverage industry, starting her own little establishment named PROW – in the heart of Central Bangkok. A cute and cosy restaurant, PROW seats around 20 people who flock to the restaurant in search of amazing Thai sweet basil dishes.
The name PROW itself is derived from ‘Kaprow’ which means “sweet basil” – the main ingredient of the dish. The word PROW in English also has a nice positive connotation, as it refers to the portion of a ship’s bow above water.
I caught up with Aura to discover how she found this interest in the food & beverage industry, why she left the fashion industry and how the entrepreneurial journey has been thus far.
Yan: You started off in the fashion industry, by pursuing a Masters of Fashion Retail at London College of Fashion before moving into a fashion retailer doing digital marketing for a luxury mall ‘Gaysorn’ situated in the heart of Bangkok. What initially led you to pursue a path in this area?
Aura: After I graduated from LCF MA Fashion Retail, my first thought was to, of course, find a job related to what I studied. When I thought of fashion retail, only a couple of choices came to my mind. I applied for a few positions and digital marketing seemed to be the most interesting choice at the moment. It was what I had already been familiar with. Basically, I was just like any other student, firstly you’d try to find a job related to your study and see how it goes.
Yan: Tell us a bit more about your background and how/why you changed from fashion to the F&B industry?
Aura: I spent roughly a year working in digital marketing for Gaysorn Group in which I was responsible for many businesses under the group in terms of digital marketing. I learned quite a few things but up to one point, everything became a routine and I started to realise I wasn’t into this kind of industry.
“When I first started taking the fashion retail course, I knew that I liked fashion. But when it came to really working in the industry, it’s not only about what you like, it’s also about whether you like it enough to make it your every day and night.”
And I discovered that I like fashion, I like the dynamic nature of retail, but I’m not sure if I like the combination of both. Apart from my own preference, the salary paid in the fashion industry isn’t really that good compared to other industries. It’s true that a lot of money goes into this industry, but the money isn’t really fairly distributed to people who work in it. So I really started to think what businesses could really flourish in Thailand. If I decided to stay back in London and worked in the fashion industry, that would be another story. But once you moved into a different setting, all the variables change. When I think of my own country which I know the best, only a few industries came up, and one of them is food. They share the similarities: dynamic and fun.
“In fashion, it is easy to replicate and labour cost plays a major role in the success of a fashion business; however, in food, it is a lot harder to do so.”
Yan: You’re soon to be celebrating the first anniversary of opening your own restaurant! What have been the biggest learnings so far?
Aura: I’ve learned a lot of things in a month, not to say a year, and one month feels like forever sometimes. There are problems at hand that you need to solve quickly or else you lose your customers. In many industries, when an issue arises, you can take time to solve it. But when you manage a restaurant, you are dealing with people who want your product ‘now’. They won’t wait. If you don’t have something that lives up to their expectation, they either give you their money for one time and that’s it, or they leave immediately.
“My biggest learnings would be there is no perfection especially when your business relies on people, but a good system will help you minimise the problems, or at least help solve them quickly.”
Yan: What is the concept behind PROW, and how might it differ from what’s available on the market?
Aura: PROW is actually derived from the word ‘Kaprow’ (กะเพรา) which is the most famous dish in Thailand. It consists of the sweet basil as the main ingredient and people usually put in the meat of their choices into it and stir fry it with garlic and chillies. Some might even add other vegetables which is still controversial, even today.
I must say Thai people have this dish a lot more often than Tom Yum or Som Tum but it has always been an underestimated dish. Why? Because you can walk along the street and find this dish everywhere. It’s easy to make, which is why almost every Thai restaurant can make it for you. What gave me an opportunity is that it’s so easy to find/eat everywhere that people don’t really think about it. Because it’s the most overlooked dish of all time, no one really puts much effort into systemising it or giving it enough attention. There is not enough consistency with this dish from the people who serve it.
If you visit this one shop and order this Kaprow dish and you love it, the next day you come back and ask for that same dish, it won’t taste the same. I personally love the dish but when I try to think of a good Kaprow shop, I can’t think of one. And that’s where it all began. Normally the dish includes the meat of your choice and sweet basil, but a lot of people would like to add any other vegetables or meat which is up to them. What I did was I gave them a variety of toppings and systemise it. I make the standard recipe which is a secret so every time customers have it, it will taste the same.
Yan: Food & beverage is typically a tough industry in general, particularly because there are always new restaurants popping up. How do you stay ahead of the market and make sure your product/brand gets “heard”?
Aura: I think first of all, you really have to understand the nature to the Thai customers and also the Thai food industry. I wouldn’t call myself an expert but all my life I’ve been observing and I’m also a customer myself. I know there are a lot of brands that come and go within months. Thai people love trying new things, but at the same time, we all get bored really easily. Therefore, I think a business that will stay will have to be what Thai people will never get bored of. I’m very certain that Thai people will never get bored of Kaprow so that is already a plus. But at the same time, I will have to find new twists to add to it. There are a lot of angles that could be played with this dish so the options are endless.
“I personally don’t believe in the hype when everyone will have to wait for hours to eat at your shop. Because no food is worth that much wait.”
As a customer waits, their expectation starts to grow bigger and when they actually taste it, no matter how good your dish it, first thing that comes up to their mind would be ‘is it worth that long wait?’ and the answer is usually no.
“So I don’t really promote my shop, I want it to be a word of mouth of real customers and I think it will last longer this way. I don’t need a big crowd that comes rushing and waiting for the first months, only to eventually leave with the comment of ‘it’s not that good’.”
I only look for a constant flow of customers. It works a lot better with the Thai food industry.
Yan: Every country & culture is unique in the way that they consume food or have a relationship with food. For example Hong Kong is very driven by the Instagram culture of food – which is to capture their foodie adventures for Instagram and to make that “moment” aesthetically pleasing. What do you think motivates Thai people to try new things? Or how do Thai people view food?
Aura: I think at first when there are new shops open, food bloggers play a big role in promoting it. All you have to do it make the customers’ visit worthwhile and try not to disappoint them.
“But in the long run, when it comes to food, it’s about a good location.”
If you are so so good, but you are hard to find and you don’t have a constant traffic, you need to work a lot harder to make people think of you when they’re hungry. But if you’re in a good location, with a good food and reasonable pricing, it’s difficult for you to fail. You must have tried some restaurants that taste so-so, but still have customers, I think that’s where a location pick works to your favour.
Thai people love trying new things because we want to be ahead of others in terms of trend. But that I think is very tricky. We love new interesting food that appeals to the eyes, but if it doesn’t taste good, it won’t last.
“Food is like the heart of Thai people.”
Apart from asking ‘how are you?’ We love asking ‘have you eaten?’ And when we don’t know what to do, we usually go sit somewhere and eat something, big or small. It’s interwoven into our culture.
Yan: What is your vision for PROW and how do you envision your food & beverage journey continuing – either for 2019 or beyond?
Aura: I think because the concept is pretty daring to a lot of Thai, it’s going to take small steps to try to change people’s minds. Before PROW, Thai people might eat Kaprow that is usually 50THB a dish (approx. USD $1.60 or HKD $13). It’s a dish locals have when they can’t think of other dishes.
When I first started PROW and had decided I’d only sell Kaprow and focus on making this dish a star, I was faced with opposing opinions. Double the price of what it’d cost outside, many were skeptical on whether this could succeed. However I pride my premium prices based on the fact I put a lot of care into choosing healthy ingredients and the quality of my PROW dishes is what customers will continuously come back for.
I know it will take a while and other locations that I can explore to work with this concept will be quite limited. But I think it will get better in time. I plan to open PROW overseas too since I think a lot of people will be able to relate to this dish. It’s easy to eat and also a healthy dish. I don’t really have exact plans since the industry changes pretty quickly as well as the fact that new players will join the market too. So I will have to explore the possibilities and see how it goes.
Yan: When you referred to: “the concept is pretty daring” do you mean the concept of “standardizing kaprow” or more the customizing of toppings?
Aura: More like a standard recipe that will taste the same every time. The sauce will taste the same, which is something that never happens when you make Kaprow (before). The customisation of the toppings are just allowing customers to pick what they like and add to the dish. They have always been an argument about this dish: whether you only include sweet basil or you can add other vegetables too. I think the best answer is you eat what you like. There is no right and wrong when it comes to taste.
Yan: Do you want to explore into other industries / areas?
Aura: I still like fashion. But I would like to focus on one thing at a time. One business already requires a lot of attention so I’d rather stick to one first.
Yan: What are some starting tips you’d give to yourself or to any budding entrepreneurs looking to start their own thing?
“There is no such thing as perfection or being really ready. You will feel like you haven’t prepared enough but when you have to start, you have to start.”
One my first day of soft opening, I didn’t even have change in my cash register. Some customers who visited you on the very first days might or might not understand you, but that’s normal and don’t stress yourself out.
“Look at them as your lesson and learn from what happens and try to improve as much and as quickly as possible. Work hard and don’t give up.”
Yan: What’s been the best learning tools for you / or people who you seek advice from?
Aura: The best learning tools would be to do a lot of research beforehand so you know what to prepare and what kind of issue to expect. Asking from people who have been in the business also helps. I ask some friends who are already in the industry. However, different shops with different products will have their own characteristics so you have to be on your own. If you don’t have anyone else to ask, reading and observing a lot will help.
It’s been amazing to see Aura do so well and I’m excited to hear that she has plans to expand overseas. To be honest I never would have imagined she’d go into the food & beverage industry but if you think about it from a marketing perspective, there is a lot of transferable strategies and elements that will crossover between the industries and like she said, location (for food particularly) is key – just think about how McDonald’s is actually a genius for it’s real estate “location” based ventures!
If you’re around Bangkok and looking for amazing Kaprow to try, definitely give PROW a try, it’s nearby the W Hotel in Bangkok but full details are below:
PROW – เพรา,
Silom Connect, Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra Road, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500
Thai name: เพรา โครงการสีลมคอนเน็ค ถ. นราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ แขวงสีลม เขตบางรัก กทม. 10500
(or search PROW on Google Maps)
BTS Chong Nonsi Exit 4 right next to the BTS stairs on the main street
Contact Details: +66867626601, +66863457705
Open daily: 11am-9pm (last order 8.30pm) or find them on Facebook