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More on the menu

Founders of stylish Hua Hin restaurant ready to take the plunge into hotel business.

Winter is coming soon and that's what reminds Srayuth Ekahitanonda of the biggest, most beautiful, full moon he has ever seen, shining soft moonlight down on Hua Hin beach. It was an unusually cold night for Hua Hin, recalls Mr Srayuth, an entrepreneur who runs the Let's Sea beachfront restaurant, and he was stunned by the moonbeams shining straight down on its open bar, where he and his staff were sitting quietly. Driven by the feelings and passion of the moment, he and the other employees created the Hua Hin Moonlight cocktail as a tribute to the wonderful moon of that night.

That happened about two years ago, when they were not as busy as they are today. Let's Sea, the stylish, 10-million-baht eatery was new then. And both tourists and locals were coming to grips with a restaurant that could possibly cost that amount of money to set up _ excluding the cost of the land.

Now they are celebrating their second anniversary in business, prompting Mr Srayuth and his two partners to think 10 times bigger _ literally. The next challenge for these age 30-something friends-turned business partners is to be a hotel that will cost roughly 100 million baht.

Hua Hin has long been one of the best-known tourist destinations, thanks to its peaceful atmosphere and relative closeness for a drive from Bangkok. A large number of foreigners with high purchasing power have settled in the resort city, driving the once quiet beach into one giant business opportunity. But business competition is also intense.

''Our break-even point is coming earlier than expected. We realise we are thinking big, but other people at the same age as us do the same,'' said a reserved-looking Mr Srayuth of his two-rai hotel project.

''It would be a boutique hotel in the sense of design and total service by a professional team. This is not just cost control for design. The world term of 'boutique hotel' means much more than just a small size. Many Thai associates put size together with the word 'boutique','' said Mr Srayuth. With 10 years of marketing experience with leading hotels in Bangkok, he can clearly explain his concepts.

Anyone who has experienced the Let's Sea _ defined as an ''al fresco by the Sea'' restaurant by Mr Srayuth _ is sure the hotel would not disappoint its guests. For one thing, the same team of architects has been asked to design the hotel.

Let's Sea has unique features, including three ''sea-through'' eating areas on a two-rai plot with green lawn between and 160 seats among them, or only a half of the restaurant. There are semi-open washrooms with just three walls; visitors look, even if they don't use the facilities.

Conde Nast Traveler, a leading US travel magazine, has just reviewed the restaurant for its December edition, in English.

''I offered and begged the magazine with a free ticket to review the hotel I used to work for, but they did not come. But they came to [Let's Sea]. I will send my ex-bosses the magazine,'' he laughed, bright eyes flashing.

Like other well-designed places, Let's Sea has been copied by local hotels. Of course they could not use the trademarked name. Mr Srayuth plans to license the trademark to generate more income from resorts or restaurant chains. The partners already have set up a company called Off-Ice to provide consulting and management contracts.

Good restaurants must have good food and service, of course, but the atmosphere and management are the key reasons behind the success, said Mr Srayuth, who holds a master's degree in tourism and hotel management from England.

''Hua Hin had its own strengths for years. We can strengthen its strengths,'' Mr Srayuth said.

His greatest fear is that improper management will ruin the country's classical beach. For example, failing to control water motorsports might disturb the vaunted tranquillity of Hua Hin _ and even make the moonlight a lot less lovely.
Bangkok Post 13 September 2005

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