Bundaberg’s renowned Thai Tulips restaurant has been serving authentic Thai cuisine for more than two decades, and now owners Phinit and Dorreen Artcheua share their secrets to success.
The couple, and their children Samuel and Isabella along with dedicated staff, are committed to providing a cultural experience behind every dish that is served at Thai Tulips.
From a small beginning, a strong sense of community and a lot of hard work, the popular family restaurant continues to thrive 21 years after it first opened.
Phinit recalls how he met Dorreen when he was elbow deep in washing up suds in the kitchen of Toowoomba’s first Thai restaurant, Thai Cottage, in 1996.
The young man with a meat science degree didn’t mind getting his hands dirty as he knew he wanted to follow the dream of owning a family business one day, and with Dorreen’s passion for hospitality he knew they could make it together.
On their first date Phinit surprised Dorreen with a beautiful bunch of tulips, and so it was only fitting they named their family business Thai Tulips after that special memory.
“I met Dorreen there at Thai Cottage,” Phinit said.
“Even though I finished uni, I did the dishes and I don’t mind, you have to start somewhere.”
Time to expand for Thai Tulips
The pair clicked immediately, and they decided to move to Bundaberg together to open a small Thai food takeaway shop in Bourbong Street, next to Pizza Hut and a popular night-time convenience store, in 1999.
Behind Phinit’s charm and Australian sense of humour, there is a serious side that seeks to improve his family business each and every day.
Whether it’s taking time to visit an array of other Thai restaurants across Queensland collecting hints and tips to keep on top of his competition, or watching and taking note of local trends, Phinit’s aim is keep each and every customer satisfied and returning time after time for his delicious fare.
Phinit said Thai food become quite popular in Australia in the early 2000s, and after five years in the Bourbong Street restaurant they needed to expand to ensure they could keep up with customer demand.
Thai Tulips restaurant has been in the well-known building, that was once a steakhouse, on the corner of Takalvan and Walker Streets, for 16 years now and it started with a lot of hard work.
“We needed a bigger place for more space, and it helped to have the room and create a theme for us,” he said.
“We walked in as freehold and we shook our head, it need a lot of work. Refreshment of the whole lot inside; walls, doors, everywhere we just crash them down.
“I had to start from scratch, I had to get secondhand ovens from the auctions, scrub it until my hand bleed before I can be able to use it, to make it new again.
“You have to pain a little in order to gain.
“Life is hard, but we choose the way we are to give the kids the best opportunity.”
Keeping the customer happy is number one for Phinit who said some nights the restaurant can be so busy, they have to turn people away.
“We try to maintain our name, and for us to make $1100 in one night and make sure the customer is happy is more important than making $2000 and not seeing the customer again, it make sense to me” he said.
“Some nights we have to unhook the phone, to maintain and look after the customers we have at the time. It is easy to get new customer in, but you have to maintain the customer to keep them coming back.”
Home flavours in every Thai Tulips dish
For Phinit, each dish must represent the flavours of his home, and his food knowledge shows in each dish that's served.
He moved to Australia 30 years ago and started his career in the meat science industry at Gatton.
He now prides himself on knowing the best cuts of meats to suit each particular dish served at Thai Tulips Restaurant.
“Going to the restaurant, I know exactly what I am looking for when it comes to meat cuts. It’s a requirement for my dish, and I know that from my study and it’s an advantage I think,” Phinit said.
“Different cuts have different presentation but also a different flavour, so it is important to get it right.
“We have sous chef Aaron George, who has been with us for 15 years. He been with us since he finished high school and he did his apprenticeship with us, so he has a lot of knowledge too.”
When it comes to popular Thai dishes, Phinit says beef massaman curry, that's slow cooked with the rump cut chunk, and chicken cashew along with coconut rice, and both of recipes are cooked from scratch.
Along with his food knowledge Phinit is a studious record keeper and he learns from experience keeping note on what happens each week in the Bundaberg Region, which helps him make a lot of his business decisions.
“I have been here for so long, we learn from the experience and I have to look after the customer,” he said.
“I look back to what happened this time last year, and the year before, what happened with certain functions, like the Christmas lights, Agrotrend and what is happening at Moncrieff, then I decide how many staff to put on and how much to prepare.”
Thai cultural experience
The Thai cultural experience continues as it’s not just the meals that mesmerise the diners at Thai Tulips, there is also a Thai hand-crafted wooden masterpiece that is displayed front and centre and captures the eyes of the patrons as they sit back and relax with family and friends.
“It was really common to have this kind of artwork in Thailand, but rare now as it is carved from one piece of Teak wood,” he said.
“It tells you the story of the lifestyle in Thailand, it shows the farmer, the people who take the water buffalo to the farm, the coconut trees and the temples.
“It’s our culture and craft and it is seen in every square inch.
“It tells the story of our culture, nice and peaceful way of living, and we hope to share that with our customers each time.”
To find out more about Thai Tulips Restaurant click here.
Thai Tulips restaurant is at 47 Takalvan Street, Bundaberg, phone 07 4153 1881.
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