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How to Succeed: Jack Piyanut Intarachai, founder of Kao Soy Nimman in Chiang Mai 

The world is full of successful CEOs, innovative entrepreneurs, and risk-taking business owners, but every person follows their own path to the top. Welcome to ‘How to Succeed’, our interview column in which we pick the brains of industry leaders to find out how they got to where they are today.

There have got to be more khao soi restaurants in Chiang Mai than there are stars in the sky. The region’s most beloved coconut curry broth can be found at almost every corner, as it is the topmost must-try dish for every tourist, and the topmost daily must-eat dish for every local. Given this fact, it becomes even more remarkable when one khao soi name comes up more often than most when we ask for a good recommendation. According to many, Kao Soy Nimman serves Chiang Mai’s best and most famous khao soi, and today, we chat to the man behind it all: Jack Piyanut Intarachai. 

From humble beginnings to successful new business ventures, Jack Piyanut Intarachai’s story is one of hard work and of adapting himself to every situation. From long, pensive walks in nature to some very lucky timing, read on for his views on his extremely successful khao soi restaurant, his workplace philosophy, and his recent hobby-turned-business ventures. 

How to Succeed: Jack Piyanut Intarachai, founder of Kao Soy Nimman in Chiang Mai

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

Tell us about your upbringing. How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up in simple surroundings. My family wasn’t very warm, and my parents were separated. I stayed with my grandfather as a child, in the countryside. I helped him out a lot; I went fishing, I looked after the chickens, and I cooked food every morning, which is how I learned how to cook. 

When my grandfather passed away, I moved into the city. I starting making my own money, and worked multiple jobs. I sold tickets, I worked in a factory, I worked at the airport, and I worked at an alcohol company for many years. This is where I learned about marketing and business. 

Why did you start with khao soi? 

I love eating khao soi, so it was very natural for me. I also knew how to make it. I used the recipe my grandfather taught me, and I adapted it with time. In the past, I was only ever in the kitchen, cooking up all the khao soi myself. 

While working at the alcohol company, I learned a lot about how to market a business, so I opened my restaurant during this time so I could apply my knowledge. I learned a lot about hospitality and service, too.

I added more elements to the restaurant step by step. We got famous from the Khao Soi Super Bowl and the ong poo crab dish, and we developed these further with special ingredients. I would go foraging in the forest and find the best chili. I would go to very local villages, right at the bottom of the mountain. The taste of the chili here is just different. 

Our khao soi now reflects this journey of adaptation. One person makes the curry paste, and only the curry paste. The broth is made by another person. One person is responsible for frying. Every person on the team has their one job, their one specialty, and they continue to adapt and build on this expertise. 

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

Why Nimman? 

My mission is that I want everybody on this earth to try khao soi. I believe that I can be the one to do it. I wanted a location that is popular, and I wanted people from all over to come here. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? 

The first three years were tough. We were still new. People were eating at the other famous stores. We had to differentiate ourselves in order to stand out. We’re more expensive than most other places, and we had to justify our price point. At the time, Instagram started booming, so we got more people through social media, and word-of-mouth marketing. I was lucky that a local celebrity also moved nearby, and he would come to the restaurant and promote it with his celebrity friends. 

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

When did you know you were successful?

I don’t see myself as particularly successful. I am still always trying to improve. I make a lot of observations and try to maintain a certain standard. 

For example, when families come to the restaurant with children, we try to take special care. We ensure that children get their food first, and we serve them fried rice free of charge. Once the children are relaxed, the adults can relax and enjoy. If the child is hungry and crying, the whole experience is ruined. 

I also have a small child. I understand. 

What about Covid times?

We were hardest hit when they closed the airport, and tourists could no longer come to Chiang Mai. We depend on tourists. During these times, we needed locals to come to our restaurant, too. That was a challenge, given that our price point is slightly higher than other local joints. 

Because of this, we shifted our focus. My partner started making doughnuts to sell to Chiang Mai people. These became so popular that people from other provinces started ordering them too. 

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

Why doughnuts?

During the lockdown, my partner was experimenting, and baking different things for our child. The doughnuts were delicious. We adapted the recipe to make it perfect. We used quality ingredients, and we researched the use of Hokkaido milk. It’s the same with our khao soi. If you choose good ingredients, you’ll have a good product. 

What are the most important factors for opening a successful restaurant?

There are three main things. Taste is important; your food has to be delicious. Good service is important, as the customer comes first. Lastly, hygiene is important, as your outlet should be clean. If you have these three components, you will succeed. 

Another thing for me is the internal communication. Even how we talk to each other as a team is important. If we shout at each other across the restaurant, the ambience and the mood of everyone, both customers and employees, will be uncomfortable. 

chiang mai kao soy
Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

What kind of people do you work with?

I look for very particular employees. I seek those who want to build a house and a family. They’re not going out and getting drunk every night. After 3 days, I can usually tell if they’re the right type for my business. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to open a khao soi restaurant, like you have?

You have to be confident in your own taste, your own tongue. People will come and say your food is too spicy, too sour, too savoury; you need to be confident in your recipe, and you need to pay attention to every ingredient that you use. 

Be well-prepared and plan well, so you don’t have to worry later and waste time on small problems. Plan well. Visit the markets. Get in the field. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Think about turnover, and how many servings you plan to have per day. Sometimes we get caught up on how little profit can come from one portion, but if you serve many portions, think about how it can magnify. 

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

They say Chiang Mai is a tough place to do business. You can either make it or fail miserably. What do you think?

Bangkok people think Chiang Mai is tough. The truth is you just need to do your research. Who is your target? Think wisely about this. You have to invest a lot, especially if you want locals to be your target. Also, Chiang Mai people like chic, minimal places. 

Chiang Mai thrives on a young generation, not big business models. There’s so many cool places by young people. This gives Chiang Mai its charm. 

Are you looking to expand?

I’m not looking to expand physical outlets, but I am looking at online activities more. Delivery is a big topic for me. I haven’t started yet, but I’m thinking about it. 

Onto more personal matters. So you have Khao Soi Nimman, a doughnut shop, and also an outdoor lifestyle store. How did this happen?

I love outdoor adventures. I love camping. I love buying camping items. They were overcrowding my home, so I opened this shop. All the things you see in the store, I’ve bought myself. I work together with a Taiwanese company and local Thai craft brands. We exchange products with Taiwan, too. 

It started out as a hobby, but not it has turned into a serious, serious hobby.

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

How do you relax?

Every year, I have to go to Sweden for 2-4 weeks. It’s beautiful there. I feel like I really get to be with myself. I walk in the forest for 7 days, or about 110 kilometres. I stay only in nature, and cut off the outside world. 

Do you like being by yourself, then?

I was a naughty child who wasn’t very good in school. When I earned more money, I started acting up. I drove a Porsche. I was showing off. But soon I realised it’s all so empty. I found an escape in nature. I realised how small I was. I learned a lot about myself, and to stay present. Every moment matters, every step matters. 

It applies to my business too. I try to do my best for my customers every day. I don’t want to overthink about the future. 

Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

In your view, what are the steps to success?

Don’t let your ego get the best of you. Remember that the day you graduate, is the day you are first unemployed. Focus on putting in the work. Start doing the work. Take it step by step, and know when to take a step back to reassess, too. 

How do you see the future of Khao Soi Nimman? 

There are many things I still want to do. I want to sell specialty khao soi dishes, made with ancient recipes and forgotten ingredients. I want to use traditional techniques and herbs. I’d like to think of it like a good ramen shop, where if the daily broth is no good, the entire shop is closed for the day. Obviously, I can’t do that right now, but I am always dreaming. 

Kao Soy Nimman, 22 Nimmana Haeminda Rd Lane 7, Tambon Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, +66 53 894 881. Open daily 11am-8pm. 

How to Succeed: Jack Piyanut Intarachai, founder of Kao Soy Nimman in Chiang Mai 

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