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Phuket business owner mixes business with pleasure

PHUKET: Chawalit ‘Lek’ Ratanachinakorn has wanted to entertain, to have restaurants and to design fabulous lady clothes since before he could cook, legally drink or sketch an idea.

By Jody Houton

Monday 15 October 2012, 09:33AM

He has followed each particular path and each aspiration with a dogged determination mostly because he simply liked doing them. Although these initial impetuses for his career aspirations might not seem to be the most business minded, they do at least come from an honest and innocent place and this focus on ‘fun’ and enjoyment has actually proved rather successful.

“I actually opened my first restaurant in Bangkok about 15 years ago,” he said. “Everyone – all my family was so surprised because I couldn’t cook. My mum is an excellent cook, but I can’t cook.”

Lek further explained that he wanted to have a restaurant because that was simply his ‘dream’.

“This was mainly so my friends and I could have somewhere to meet and hang out, and back then the design crowd – models, designers and artists started to come out because there wasn’t anywhere else to go and so this also attracted other people.”

It is this ethos of ‘sanook’ that runs throughout Lek’s work and which has stood him in good stead in being able to start-up so many ‘active projects’, one of which is designing women’s clothes for his own brand ‘Century 22’.

Bangkok-born Lek is probably most well known, at least on the island, for being the owner of the hugely popular Sanaeha bar/restaurant in Phuket Town. He’s there most nights, because, well, he wants to be and also because it’s good for business.

“I really like the style of Sanaeha and it’s somewhere that I want to be, so I don’t mind being there every night. People know that I will be there if they decide to come down.”

Lek believes that as the Phuket nightlife is not comparable with Bangkok where people could quite ‘acceptably’ go out on their own, Sanaeha offers an alternative for the solo socialite.

“People in Phuket normally have to go out with friends, or they can just go down to Sanaeha and meet me, and I will connect them with other people, because everybody knows someone else here.”

Sanaeha is indeed a fun, vibrant and friendly place. Lek likes being there, which is good for a personal and business level for a multitude of reasons.

“It’s a lot of different things that make it so popular; the design of the place is very nice but also very casual and the food is very good. We also have no complaints with the drinks – cocktails, wine, champagne and expensive brands of whisky...”.

He’s also the owner of Pimento restaurant, in Central Festival and also regularly puts on differently themed evenings, like the recently held Snow White night, alongside Phuket designer Brian Woulfe.

Lek said that it’s nice to have such nights because it allows people to get involved, remember the event and talk about it.

Laguna Golf Phuket

Lek himself dressed up as a bunny rabbit.

Although Sanaeha attract members from both the straight and gay community, he attributes much of its success to the regular attendance of the latter group.

“Gay people are fun. They have good taste and a great lifestyle. People think, Thai people especially think, it must be a fun place if gay people are there. Because they dress up, it’s fun.”

Although Phuket Town and Yaowarat Road has now quite a bustling nightlife and looks set to grow further, it never used to be like that.

“I always believed in Phuket Town... When I first arrived the town and everything used to close down at 6pm. It became like a ghost town. But I always said that I believe in Phuket Town, with the beautiful heritage buildings, why can’t we do something else?”

Much like Watcharin the Phuket Town-based artist said, that the area could benefit from a major facelift, the promoting of local talent and bringing something genuinely different and cultural to the island.

“There should be a whole mix in the Old Town – museums, restaurants, nightlife. We only have three streets! It would be so easy... But everybody needs to do it together. I think the TAT needs to lead this.

“I predict Phuket Town will become the hippest part of Phuket in the next few years. This is of course if local people support it.”

He believes that with local help or even at a stretch national help, there is no reason that the historical area of Phuket Town couldn’t thrive like Georgetown does.

“It’s funny, some think that people like me – Bangkok people – are coming to Phuket and destroying it or changing it. But that’s just not true, I have four buildings but I’ve made them all with great design. I think the locals need to take care of their own buildings before they worry about anything else.

“Then Phuket Town could come alive with lots of business and bring the town back to life. I always laugh when I see them promoting ‘walking street’, how can they promote that?

“People want to see life and culture. It’s too hot to walk around all day, plus they’re done in 30 mins and what are they supposed to do then? Just go home?”

Thankfully there are at least a few bars and restaurants to go to now in the evenings. But Lek believes there could be more, along with museums, theatres, cafes and cultural centres. He’s not the only one...



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