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