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Coca's generation next

Thailand's leading suki restaurant Coca celebrates its golden jubilee

Coca's generation next

Half a century ago, long before Western fast food found its way to Thailand, families and friends began to rendezvous for lunch or dinner over a simmering pot of stock and plates of thinly sliced pork, beef, chicken and vegetables.

Next month, Coca, the restaurant chain that introduced suki, or steamboat, to the dining public celebrates its 50th anniversary and the founding Phanphensophon family will also be feting a more personal achievement by welcoming the third generation on board.

Natalie, at 21, the eldest daughter of Coca Restaurant's chairman, has been given the responsibility for the gala dinner, which is being held on August 18 at Coca's original Surawong branch.

The third year student of King's College London says she's found the task tough but fun and adds that it's certainly been a valuable experience.

"As the project organiser, I have to take care of all aspects. The theme is Golden Jubilee so we're going for a golden decor. My job is to ensure that the night is truly gorgeous," she says.

HRH Princess Somsavali will preside over the charity gala dinner at the recently renovated restaurant and will see the formal introduction of Natalie, as well as her three younger siblings.

The Bt2,000 tickets include a 9-course menu based on the signature dishes of nine celebrities, among them designer Jimmy Choo, actor Chatayodom Hirunyatithi, family planning guru Meechai Viravidhaya and Chaiya Yimwilai.

"These nine celebrities are customers who have a close bond with our restaurant. They are also food tasters," says Natalie, adding that the gala will also feature entertainment programmes including fashion shows showing the styles of the '50s through to the '90s and a mini concert by Ben Chalatis.

Lake Tea 8, the new teahouse next door to Coca Suki Surawong, will be officially opened on August 17 and will serve a range of teas and Chinese desserts.

Natalie has fond memories of watching both her late grandmother and father preparing food for family.

"My grandmother, who started Coca, loved cooking. She opened a small Cantonese restaurant on Decho Road but was always having to depend on chefs. They didn't have spirit or enough discipline," Natalie explains.

When her father travelled to China and enjoyed a hot pot served with many kinds of meats and vegetables, he decided to adapt the menu to the restaurant. The idea caught on and the soon the 20-seat business had expanded to a 150-seat restaurant.

Today, there are seven Coca Suki branches in Thailand and over 30 franchisees overseas. The well known Thai restaurant Mango Tree, Italian Restaurant La Fontana, Botantei Japanese Restaurant and Kroissant House are also part of the group.

"There is a rule in my family. My dad asks that we are all together for breakfast and dinner together. It's been like this since I was young. My father will go home and prepare dinner. He loves cooking."

Natalie prefers baking and says she can whip up great cheesecakes and brownies.

"I like to start baking at midnight. I can always find special occasions for baking," says the student of nutrition.

"I've grow up in the food business and will be making it my career, so I'm interested in future. When I finish my studies in London, I intend pursuing my master's degree in food science in the US."

It will be four more years before Natalie graduates and returns home to take her place in the family business, but she knows the training is well worth her while.

Before flying home for this school break, she worked as a trainee for two weeks at Mango Tree Restaurant in London.

And despite being the owner's daughter, she informed everyone that she wanted to be treated as an ordinary member of staff.

"I worked in every part of the restaurant from receptionist, bartender to waitress. My days started at 11am and finished at 11pm. The first day I worked as a receptionist and wore high heels

"I had to take customers to their tables and the London branch has about 40 tables. After a couple of hours, I had to change my shoes," she laughs.

"But I learned a lot. Service is hard work. You needs to keep your wits about you and a smile on your face."


Tanaporn Tangcharoenmankong

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