First-time entrepreneurs and seasoned businessmen on their latest bars, restaurants, and quick-service outlets
First Time’s the Charm
She is not your regular, on-the-radar Indian in Sukhumvit, she says. In fact, most people know Saloni Jirathaneswongse through her bar, The Alchemist, which she co-owns with her high-school friend Tapanee “Taps” Manaves. For a nightlife business owner, Saloni is surprisingly sunny and sincere; the ex-IBM telecommunications consultant also turns up right on time for the interview and isn’t afraid to share her fears as a woman bar-owner.
The first-time entrepreneurs stumbled upon the idea of opening up a bar after their career as radio jockeys for Wave FM 88 abruptly ended when the company went under after a day’s notice. Despite their day jobs—Saloni as the manager of her family’s serviced apartments and Tapanee as a senior research executive for Insight Asia, the women had free time and wanted to do something creative with it.
Luckily for them, around the same time as they were scouting for a place, Saloni’s father-in-law was looking to sublet the ground floor space of his tailoring shop. “It was perfect,” Saloni says about the little sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11. “The small street had morphed into restaurants and bars, so it was just the right opportunity and timing.”
But why a bar, you might think. “Initially, I thought of a small pizza place. But given the limited amount of space, there was no room for a kitchen.” To make most of the 40 sqm area, the women had to cut corners by narrowing down tables, concealing the glass washing unit under the counter, and even using the space under the staircase as storage space.
For two women starting a self-financed venture, the stakes were high, and so they started small and from the very bottom. “We made a dorky business plan and did a cash projection sheet to set a realistic goal [for our investment returns]”. But there were other concerns, too. Saloni says, “Our fear was What if the mafia gets involved? or What if I fail at this age?” Luckily for them, being located on a private street has its benefits, and so far there has not been any outside interference.
As for the actual operations, the women have taken on specific tasks—Taps designs the menu and handles the creative aspect, while Saloni does the books, and together they are perfecting the formula for managing a successful business. Two challenging years on, the ladies are right on target with their business plan. Even though they haven’t yet earned back their investments, they are more than breaking even on a monthly basis. Saloni says the only reason they have made it this far is because of perseverance and rules that they had set forth since the start. “We close at 12 sharp, even though bars make most of their money between 12 and 2am. But for two women running a bar [without male bouncers], this is the best scenario.”
Recently, The Alchemist has started doing events featuring acoustic gigs from local bands. Saloni believes that cheap drinks cannot really be the only draw. The duo is looking for an events manager, and their next goal is to have more events in the high season. As for the future, Saloni has no plans to expand, nor does she see herself getting back into working for a big company. “It’s not about the money. This life for me is more flexible and also allows me to do many things.”
Published in Masala magazine, August 2013