Whoosh - Out of the frying pan and into the fire
After successfully establishing an exotic eaterie in Coleraine, a young entrepreneur is eyeing her next challenge: Belfast. Paul Gosling reports
It is a clear sign that Northern Ireland is becoming more cosmopolitan when there is a successful Thai and Vietnamese Street Food Cafe in the market town of Coleraine. It is a place where customers are encouraged to sit, mingle and chat with complete strangers, while quickly eating healthy fast food.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was established by someone who herself has a cosmopolitan background. Thana Thammavongsa was born in France, but her parents were from Laos in South East Asia.
Whoosh began back in 2008 as an event catering business, servicing corporate and private clients across Northern Ireland. But Thana's ambition was always to open her own eating house, even though most of her working life has not been in the industry.
"I moved here about 17 years ago," she says, initially to do business studies and languages at the University of Ulster's Coleraine campus. "It gave me the basics. But it was more my work experience that helped me. I am learning every day.
"I used to work as a translator and interpreter for a company and I did business development, but I always cooked from a very young age and I wanted to do something that I enjoyed rather than work for somebody else."
Thana admits that it has been a challenge to persuade an unfamiliar local population that Thai and Vietnamese food is worth sampling, and then to eat it regularly. "We have slowly been telling people about Thai and Vietnamese food," she said.
"Vietnamese food really isn't known. On the mainland it has become better known. People are more aware of Thai food. Through that, we have introduced people to a few Vietnamese items.
"Vietnamese, Laos and Thai foods are similar. Vietnamese is slightly more subtle. The spices come from the side, rather than being in the main dish. So people can just season as they prefer. There is always a little bit of meat in the meal."
Presentation is important – and a sense of the restaurant's style can be appreciated from the photos on its website, www.eat whoosh.com.
"If it looks good, people are more willing to try it," says Thana. "That is what we found through catering. We make it colourful and attractive."
Whoosh is still a small business – just three people work there. Business expansion is restricted because Coleraine is so small, with the restaurant closing most nights at 5.30pm. "It would not work here in the evening," says Thana. "Everything here shuts at 5.30.
"On Friday we have extended our times to 8pm and that works well. If there were people here (in the town), we would be happy to open longer. But we have tastings evenings twice a month and that works very well."
Thana would like to move gradually to having several Whoosh outlets.
"By the end of this year I would like to be looking at another location," she says. "I would love to open in Belfast. If it works here in a small town then it will work in a city."
Special ingredients needed to ensure your company meets today's challenges
SOME 99% of companies are now struggling, with innovation as their key challenge. They need to become asymmetric. They need to embrace the unexpected, writes Ron Immik, Co-founder of Small Business Can
They need to be able to cope with chaos, hyper-competition, uncertainty and change. They need to embrace ambiguity, disruptions and turbulence. They need to rehearse the future. Optimisation is a given, not a distinctive feature any more. What sets the standards in one market sets the standard for all.
Strategy as a challenge
Strategy now needs to keep up with the speed of change in your company (not the other way around). The need continues for reconfiguration, innovation and opportunity spotting.
What is needed?
What's required is provocation, deep immersion, deep insight, reframing, serendipity, intuition, collaboration, passion, contradiction, a prepared and full mind and most importantly, an ability to execute on the idea.
Good news for us
The good news is that entrepreneurs and small business are used to all of the above. Without blinking. Troll Inc does it. Whoosh does it. Common denominator? Love and care.
Caring as the secret sauce
Caring is the secret sauce. If you care, you can make meaningful distinctions, your intuition will work better and you will know what is important and what is not. Caring will make you connect the dots. If you don't care, there is no point.
Get your staff to care
And if you can get your staff to care, you will become better innovators, will get everyone gazing at the same star, following the same cause, and it will break down the silos. Unfortunately you can't install care like software or put it into the staff manual. It needs to be developed.
Culture eats everything
Which goes back to the mission, the conversations, the engagement, the framing, the stories, the symbols of success, the creation of a community of purpose, a platform of common values.
Or in one word: culture. Which would suggest that culture does not only eat strategy, it eats innovation, marketing and anything else in your company.
Happiness ensures innovation
I take a bet that Troll and Whoosh are cool and enjoyable places to work.
Happiness at work. Innovation at work.