Quality is key for Henrik and Dorte Tvilling who left Denmark to pursue their dream of opening up a restaurant in Thailand.
A dream of owning a restaurant in southern Europe turned into an Asian adventure on a Wednesday night for Danish couple Dorte and Henrik Tvilling while watching a popular real estate show on Danish TV. That particular show featured properties in Thailand. Having explored some of the impossibly expensive and unattainable places in Europe, the prices in Thailand appealed to the couple and they quickly decided to seek fortune 12.000 kilometers away.
Things did not go as planned
Having sold their home in Denmark and bought a house in Thailand, the couple stumbled upon what looked like a golden opportunity soon after the move. In Hua Hin, where the couple had set up their new home, there was a soon-to-be-completed restaurant and bar, whose owner was looking for a tenant and they were quick to seize the opportunity.
“It seemed like the perfect solution. It was near our new house, there would be a client base around it, and the risk would be lower because we would only be the tenants of the place,” Dorte and Henrik explains.
But the ‘perfect solution’ turned out to be not so perfect after all.
“The contractor ran into a lot of problems and, to both his and ours disappointment, the completion of the building kept getting postponed,”says Henrik, and even after one year it wasn’t getting anywhere near complete.
“We were agitated and the frustration kept growing. So we had to give up on Plan A and began to make a Plan B,” says Dorte.
Dreams and determination
Despite a rough start, the Danish couple was determined not to give up.
“This was our dream and we were not ready to give up on it that easily. So we got out of the old deal and went hunting for suitable locations elsewhere,” say Henrik and Dorte.
After searching for nearly a year they were getting impatient and needed something to happen soon. They looked at open spaces in central locations but all of them turned out to be too expensive to renovate as they were uncertain on whether the investment would be lost, if they could not get their lease renewed.
“Most of the places we looked at had empty walls, no air conditioning and needed a big makeover if they were ever going to be a restaurant. We were worried that if we did all the renovation, we would have our lease terminated afterwards and the owner would rent it out to someone else at a higher rent.’” Dorte explains.
Dorte and Henrik then began searching for restaurants for sale instead of just empty spaces and one day they drove by the Crystal Design Center near Lad Prao and found that there was one for sale.
“I actually thought it had already been sold, because I could not get a hold of the owner, but then I came back in the evening and made him an offer,” says Henrik and after some negotiation on the price, Henrik and Dorte bought the place, which today is the Crystal Cafe.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
When Henrik and Dorte moved to Thailand, the plan was to set up a restaurant serving Danish cuisine. But when they bought the Crystal Café the cuisines on offer were Thai, Mexican and Italian – and they were popular among the customers.
So instead of changing the menu, they looked at other ways to enhance the gourmet experience of customers.
“We thought more of our customers would be friends of us, but instead around 90 percent of our customers are regular Thais that come in from the street,” says Henrik and Dorte.
Once they realized who their customers are, they decided to compete by doing promotions.
“When we look out the window, we can see how people are walking around, scouting for the best offer available. That is why we do promotions on beer, wine and seasonal promotions all the time,” she says.
Throughout February month Crystal Café is promoting Valentines Day, meaning that the restaurant is decorated with hearts from top to toe and even some of dishes are made in a heart shape.
Quality never goes out of style
Henrik and Dorte have brought their many years of experience from the Danish restaurant business with them to Thailand. With this experience comes a personal ambition to give people of Bangkok a taste of quality and a gourmet expertise equal to what you would expect in Denmark.
“There is really no pleasure in taking a bite of a steak from local Thai beef, so we import from Australia. We accept not having the big earnings on our dishes as long as the beef is tender and the fish is fresh. We want our quality to make us stand out, unparalleled quality,” says Dorte.
Both Henrik and Dorte pride themselves on having everything from the food to the juices in the bar handmade even though this is much more expensive.
“Food is my passion and I will never see myself as fully trained and educated. There is always something new to learn or something that can be done even better,” Dorte stresses.
She and Henrik often travel around to find exactly the right ingredients for their food and a supplier, who can consistently deliver the high standard they expect.
Another area, where they strive for excellence is in teaching their staff. Dorte educates her staff in the kitchen in Italian cuisine and techniques.
“Work Permit rules in Thailand are quite complicated, so instead of being a chef in the restaurant and working all day in the kitchen, my job here is more as a coach or supervisor for our kitchen staff, and Henrik and I really believe in teaching and giving something of ourselves. It is our opinion that the employees grow with their responsibilityies” says Dorte about her role in the restaurant and admits that the learning is not a one-way street.
“I don’t speak much Thai, so I actually learn a lot, when we work in the kitchen. We repeat many of the kitchen items both in English and Thai, so that I no longer ask for a horse when I’m in need of a pot,” she says and laughs.
Outside the kitchen Henrik is the manager of the restaurant and he is responsible for all the paperwork and deals with the restaurant’s suppliers. It is not an easy task with Dorte and Henrik, being unwilling to neither compromise on quality nor let the high quality cause prices to rise.
The language barrier also imposes some difficulties for Henrik. Therefore Henrik has found himself a personal assistant who is fluent in both Thai and English.
“She is of great value to me. She fills out all the forms that are needed for us to run the restaurant, and she is also a great right hand to have with me when I have to negotiate prices with our suppliers,” says Henrik.
Expansion is not the aim
Though the restaurant makes a profit and Henrik and Dorte merely oversees what goes on there, they do not dream of expanding.
“Crystal Café is our baby and we believe that if we had more than one restaurant, we would not be as devoted, as committed and as passionate about it is as we are now. You cannot be at two places at the same time,” they say and explain that they would only consider giving up the restaurant if their son, Daniel, aged 15, one day comes to them and says he wants to take over.
“Just like a baby we are not going to hand it over to just anybody.”