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Master of Basil : Thai Street Food with a Social Impact

A few years ago, amidst a declining economy and rising costs of living, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivered an inspiring speech, addressing the situation. The Prime Minister simply reminded Thai people to find strength within, and observe the Sufficiency Economy Philosphy (SEP) as introduced by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great. SEP had a simple but practical approach to maintaining sustainable growth. The main idea was to live, produce and consume in moderation and reasonableness. Being aware and mindful of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, in order to maintain a balanced livelihood.

These words motivated Pongpanas Mangklakiri,an engineer in Khon Kaen Province, so much, that he decided to close down his lavish, over-the-top restaurant and instead, create his own home-cooked, “national” thai dish franchise called “Kaprao Sao Ha.” The name is literally translated as Kaprao 25. The number 25 represents the price of the dish, a mere 25 baht, even less than one US dollar. Krapaois a well-loved common Thai dish consisting of stirred fried meat, usually minced pork, with holy basil leaves, chilli and garlic, and is served with steamed jasmine rice.

  

Pongpanas and his girlfriend believed that their idea of selling inexpensive food would fly, as this significantly broadened their consumer base. There was also no need to pay rent, as they sold their dish by just a simple food cart. The main cost came from the ingredients which could be controlled to an average of 15 baht per serving, leaving the profit margin at 10 baht. Furthermore, by producing in bulk, for at least ten servings, the cost for fuel and gas could be reduced. Food preparation was also simple as the franchise initially provided one single menu of kaprao made from pork.

Compared to the restaurant he formerly owned, Pongpanas said the food cart required much less effort and generated much more profit. As a result, he shut down his restaurant permanently to focus on his franchise. Eventually, his business became a hit, selling over 300 servings on average per day, reaching a peak of up to 600 servings. Pongpanas’ colleagues then started to take an interest in his business, which led to the franchise business with a price of 35,000 baht each. It quickly expanded to over 30 branches in various provinces all over the country, as the success story spread through words of mouth.

   
Photo: Kaprao Sao Ha Facebook

Pongpanas plans to set up over a hundred branches by the end of 2020. The true achievement, however, is not the economic success of the franchise, but rather the ability to create jobs for others, as well as to lower the cost of living for Thai people, especially in difficult times.

That was just half of the story. The whole picture will not be complete without mentioning the “Rak Lok Food Cart” project.

When Pongpanas’ franchise project won second place in the Government Savings Bank (GSB) Street Food event, he was given a rare opportunity to be coached by Chumpon Jangprai, a celebrity chef who owns the first two-starred Michelin restaurant in Thailand. Chef Chumpon recommended that Pongpanas create a standardized food cart system to upgrade the street food scene in Thailand. After consulting with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI), “Rak Lok Food Cart” was conceived. The name of the food cart is a play of words conveying the message of love and preservation of the earth.   

The newly invented food cart system represents cutting-edge technology with distinct features, including light-weight materials, a wastewater treatment system, a water sink, smoke ventilation system, two stoves, a refrigerator and a shelf on the side. It’s a prime example of innovation that complies with the government’s policy to promote the Bio Circular Green (BCG) Economy Model.

There are four prototypes: the higher the price, the more features included. The prices range from 45,000 baht to 75,000 baht. To make the system more accessible to new entrepreneurs, NSTDA, in cooperation with the Government Savings Bank, initiated a financial scheme to provide supplementary budget to the first 100 aplicants, allowing entrepreneurs to buy the food cart for only 20,000 baht, with low interest loans from the bank.


Photo: DECC

The case of Kaprao Sao Ha franchise demonstrates how a small, home-grown business can open doors to economical gastronomy, elevating the standards of Thai street food to a whole new level by combining a practical business model with modern technology to sell a simple, but well-loved classical Thai dish. This story is the exact definition of the SEP approach, where Pongpanas just applied whatever was already within his reach, both skills and resources. When he was given further technical know-how and support, his business model soared into another level of success.

The story of Kaprao Sao Ha and Rak Lok Food Cart underlines the ingeniuity and reslience of Thai people in any crisis, as well as the instrumental role of the public sector in incubating and nurturing small entrepreneurs.  This is only among one of many other public-private collaborations to drive sustainable development in the country.

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