Farm boy turns noodle magnate
Panrob Kamla has big plans for his Chaixi Bameekiao venture
Bangkok offers the appeal of a better life for many young people from Isan, Thailand’s poorest region. Some look for quality education or better jobs, and a better quality of life.
Panrob Kamla, a Grade 4 graduate and ex-farmer from Roi Et, chased that dream in the capital, founding the successful Chaixi Bameekiao, the renowned street noodle chain found on many street corners in Bangkok.
“I never imagined one day that Chaixi Bameekiao would become a renowned street food noodle brand in Thailand,” said Mr Panrob, 57.
In 1984 he was a conscript stationed in Nonthaburi province. After two years in the military, his savings totalled 60,000 baht from his salary and allowances and he returned to Roi Et to become a farmer.
But shortly after, Mr Panrob quit farming and moved to Bangkok at the request of his younger brother to help deliver meatballs to food stores.
With a passion for food and sales experience, he made a bold move in 1994, deciding to start his own noodle stall in Lam Luk Ka, Pathum Thani with an initial investment of 10,000 baht.
“I earned about 2,000 baht in sales on the first day from my 10-baht noodles, with sales on some days reaching 5,000 baht,” Mr Panrob said. “The success of Chaixi Bameekiao comes from one factor: product quality.”
With good return on investment, stories about his success were broadcast on TV. Mr Panrob’s noodle chain swiftly became popular, thanks to word of mouth. Now 4,500 branches of Chaixi Bameekiao span Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with combined sales of about a billion baht per year.
All branches are under a franchise system.
Mr Panrob aims to have 10,000 Chaixi Bameekiao branches in a few years.
The Chaixi brand sells more than noodles and wonton products, also offering chicken rice and meatballs. The company sells Panpee-brand grilled duck, and the latest move is to launch the ChaYang bubble milk tea brand under its portfolio.
Mr Panrob said he is preparing to expand into seasoning products under the Rostop brand.
The current success has yet to satisfy him, as he is seeking opportunities in Asia and the Middle East in the coming months.
“I am planning to open Chaixi Bameekiao in Bahrain,” he said. “There is no attractive factor to draw me to expand business there except for more than 20,000 Thais working in Bahrain. More importantly, the country doesn’t collect income tax from foreign investors. I don’t know whether this expansion is a risk, but in my view it would be riskier if I dare not take this chance.”
The president said his company is set to open its first noodle business via a new name and business format. The first Mr Chaixi will open at ThaiMart City in a modern stand-alone shop on May 20. Recipes are also adjusted to fit local demand.
At the same time, Mr Panrob recently formed a joint venture with a local partner in the Philippines to run Mr Chaixi noodle shops in retail complexes in the Philippines from April. Shops in Myanmar are in the pipeline.
Chaixi Bameekiao has branched out abroad in the past decade, starting with Laos. The brand has 48 branches, 70% located in Vientiane and 30% in Vang Vieng and Savannakhet.
With a bright future in Laos, Mr Panrob decided to set up a joint venture with a local partner to run a noodle production facility last year with a production capacity of 10 tonnes a day.
“Chaixi Bameekiao is very successful in Laos,” he said. “We plan to reach 100 branches by 2022.”
Chaixi also expanded into Cambodia a few years ago. Now it operates two Chaixi Bameekiao branches in the neighbouring country, one in Phnom Penh and the other in Sisophon.
A few years ago, Mr Panrob bought a 6.5-rai plot of land in Sisophon province to support future expansion in Cambodia. He is now engaged in talks to buy a further 6.5 rai in the adjacent area to set up a noodle production facility this year.
“We see a huge opportunity both in Laos and Cambodia; we will use Laos as a springboard to expand our noodles to China in the future,” Mr Panrob said. “We also intend to list our company in the next few years, with two purposes: to raise funds for future expansion and show corporate transparency.”