The Chain Reaction Of Supanniga's Thanaruek Laoraowirodge
Khon Kaen native Thanaruek Laoraowirodge is a co-founder of the trio of popular food and beverage ventures that make up the Supanniga Group. The eldest child of Thatree and Phajongkit Laorauvirodge, the entrepreneurial 43-year-old inherited their business acumen and his late grandmother’s love of authentic home-cooked food and has combined them to establish an international stable of eateries that honour traditional Thai tastes.
With Isan-style Som Tam Der, Supanniga Eating Room and cloud kitchen Sood Kua outlets in Thailand, the US, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan—and more planned in the future—Thanaruek is used to being a very busy man, although he tempers his enthusiasm in his mission to “think local act global” by following the spiritual example of his parents. “They have always encouraged me to be passionate about what I do but also to be mindful of others and to spread happiness wherever possible. We could all do with being more considerate,” he smiles.
Steeped in the traditions of a business family, Thanaruek pursued a bachelor’s degree in economics at Chulalongkorn University and followed it with a master’s degree in the same field at New York University. On returning to Thailand he went to work at Siam Commercial Bank for a few months and had a brief stint at the World Bank, but he knew deep down that his heart wasn’t in high finance. “So I went to Shanghai for a year and studied language and food. It was the start of the journey to opening Krua Supanniga by Khunyai in 1999, our first restaurant which pays homage to my grandmother’s cuisine,” he explains.
That journey almost took a sharp left turn at the start when the then 20-something Thanaruek, wanting to help put his hometown on the tourism map, initially contemplated entering the hospitality industry. The family own land in and around Khon Kaen, some of which his mother had cultivated into beautiful orchards. “My initial idea was for a boutique hotel, private and upscale, hidden amongst the trees. I wanted to promote luxury travel in the area—it has nowhere near the exposure in that segment as say Chiang Mai or Phuket.”
The investment and practicalities required for the project soon became daunting but then Thanaruek, showing his analytical nature, paused and rethought the whole thing. He says, “I was eating a lot of great home-cooked stuff at the time, regional specialties my grandmother clued me into—dishes from Khon Kaen, Trat and other nooks of the country. And then it hit me…the food! It was unique and wonderful and if it made me happy, it would make others happy too. Then thoughts turned to a restaurant.”
Fast forward to today and with the closure of his dining cruise and the curtailing of the dining scene around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, Thanaruek has found more time to reflect on what is personally important and how the business might unfold in the future. “I am fortunate because I have had the opportunity to work with some very talented people. I am very aware that success is down to the team. It has been a tough few months but we hope to ride it out together. Our people are still delivering great food around the world and we are all exploring ways in which we can use technology to tap into changing consumer habits brought about by the pandemic.”
Thanaruek says he is lucky to have the support of family in Khon Kaen and further afield, including younger brother Tharin, his parents, his fiancé Ratchayut Potaja who manages a branch of Somtam Der in Chiang Mai, and his sister Thanavalai who helps to manage his online business in Boston. When he does have time to switch off, he practises meditation. “You can do it anywhere,” he laughs. “I particularly enjoy doing it in Rajasthan. I love India and feel a connection to it, the style of the maharajas of old and the wonderful sense of hospitality.”
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