Close-Up

En­tre­pre­neur and so­cial en­abler Varatt Vi­chit-Vadakan talks to Nicha­ree Phati­tit about cof­fee, com­mu­nity and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

Thailand Tatler - - CONTENTS -

En­tre­pre­neur and so­cial ac­tivist Varatt Vi­chit-Vadakan wants to boost the lo­cal cof­fee in­dus­try, while ar­chi­tect and aca­demic ML Chit­tawadee Chi­tra­bongs looks to build on an artis­tic fam­ily legacy

As the old adage has it, choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. At a time when cof­fee shops and cafés have be­come the new of­fices of choice, Varatt Vi­chit-Vadakan, or Tae, has got the best of both worlds. The founder and man­ag­ing direc­tor of Think Be­yond, his busi­nesses in­clude Roast Cof­fee & Eatery, Roots Cof­fee Roaster, and Thon­glor’s pop­u­lar com­mu­nity space The Com­mons.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing his de­gree in eco­nomics at Bos­ton Univer­sity, Varatt went on to pur­sue a ca­reer in mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­fore re­turn­ing to Thai­land. The turn­ing point came when he left his job to work on free­lance projects for lo­cal busi­nesses. Meet­ing his clients in cafés, he dis­cov­ered a world be­yond the ubiq­ui­tous cof­fee­house chains. “Not fully sat­is­fied with what I was get­ting in terms of qual­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence, I started learn­ing about cof­fee mak­ing my­self and even­tu­ally I be­came hooked.”

Varatt’s love for cof­fee is far from su­per­fi­cial. The 2014 Barista Cham­pion of Thai­land truly cares for the bean and the lo­cal in­dus­try it drives. Aim­ing to boost the pro­file of Thai cof­fee among con­sumers, he plans to use his bou­tique roaster, Roots, to build a busi­ness model where a por­tion of the rev­enue from ev­ery cup is re­turned to the farm level. Al­though at a nascent stage, a pro­gramme is al­ready un­der­way in which 10 baht from ev­ery cup of Thai cof­fee sold at Roast goes into a fund to help farm­ers im­prove cul­ti­va­tion of the bean in Chi­ang Mai and Chi­ang Rai. “We’re hop­ing that if we can go full swing with it we’ll be able to adopt more farm­ers and fur­ther im­prove the qual­ity of lo­cally pro­duced cof­fee, which is ben­e­fi­cial to roast­ers, baris­tas, cus­tomers and ul­ti­mately the grow­ers them­selves. I think it’s go­ing to be re­ally ex­cit­ing,” he says.

Look­ing back, Varatt con­sid­ers the ex­pan­sion of his busi­ness from cafés to food re­tail devel­op­ment to be a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of his pas­sion for cre­ation. To­gether with elder sister, Vicha­ree, he co-founded Thon­glor’s com­mu­nity space The Com­mons. “We al­ways dreamt of cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity that rep­re­sents Bangkok’s best pro­duc­ers and crafters, and a space for cus­tomers who care about what they are con­sum­ing.” It’s not just about the busi­ness ei­ther. Be­liev­ing that small changes can make a big dif­fer­ence, Varatt has started ini­tia­tives that aim to give back to the com­mu­nity. Fur­ther­more, the profit made on bot­tled wa­ter at The Com­mons is do­nated to a fund that aids the un­der­priv­i­leged in the area. “If we can make a small pos­i­tive im­pact along the way, even though it may cost us or re­quire more of our time, well that’s still bet­ter than do­ing noth­ing.” A de­scen­dant of Ma­jor Gen­eral Luang Vi­chit-Vadakan and son of lead­ing aca­demic As­soc Prof Dr Juree Vi­chit-Vadakan, for­merly of NIDA, it is not sur­pris­ing that Varatt has in­her­ited his pre­de­ces­sors’ ded­i­ca­tion to ame­lio­rate the well-be­ing of the un­der­priv­i­leged in Thai­land.

Hap­pily mar­ried to Chuthathip Wong­paisan and fa­ther to four-and-a-hal­fyear-old daugh­ter Varis­sara (Tamm) and 18-month-old son Varann (Tathi), Varatt— who was re­cently in­cluded in Thai­land Tatler’s in­au­gu­ral Gen­er­a­tion T list of the 50 most in­flu­en­tial young tal­ents shap­ing the coun­try’s fu­ture—ad­mits he can lose him­self com­pletely in cook­books, and al­though he no longer spends hours in the bar and kitchen at Roast as he did when the busi­ness first opened, he en­joys shar­ing qual­ity time at home with his daugh­ter cook­ing sim­ple dishes such as scram­bled eggs and pasta. Not­ing that Bangkok still lacks ac­tiv­ity spa­ces like parks and mu­se­ums geared specif­i­cally to­wards young­sters, he jokes that his next project might be to de­velop a chil­dren’s com­mu­nity space. Don’t bet against it tak­ing root and be­com­ing a re­al­ity.

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