What do you get if you add a drunken night out with your mates and a complete absence of a decent fish and chips in the immediate vicinity? The answer: Food for thought. We talk to Chris Rodgers about the journey that started as a two week trip to Thailand and ended up with him bringing a real English fish and chip shop to Khao San Road.
KSR.com: OK… Perhaps you can start by telling us your full name.
OMC: Chris Rodgers… with a ‘D’.
KSR.com: So… How long have you been in Thailand?
OMC: I’ve been here 12 years…
KSR.com: And what have you been doing for most of those 12 years?
OMC: I came here for 2 weeks 12 years ago… I was on my way to Indonesia and Australia from India, but I never managed to get down there. For the first 6 months I did the backpacker stuff; backpacking around Thailand. And then I got involved in the Thailand Times… I am a photographer and I was helping them out for a while. It was never enough to live on though, and then one day the company I used to work for in the UK called me because had a new contract at the airport here. They were working with a Thai company and asked if I could show them the ropes for 3 months. That lasted 10 years and I finished with them in November last year. We were dealing with all the major airlines. I finished that to start up this place.
KSR.com: Time to go out on your own?
OMC: Well, yeah.
KSR.com: You weren’t going to open your own airline, so you opened a chippy (fish and chip shop) instead?
OMC: That’s right – instead of “we’re flying tonight”, “we’re” frying tonight”.
KSR.com: That can be the interview headline…”From frying to flying!”
OMC: I wasn’t actually flying though; I was on the ground.
KSR.com: Still a great headline…
KSR.com: So… erm… The big question is, “is it a northern chippy, or a southern chippy?”
OMC: Middle… we are bridging the gap between north and south.
KSR.com: You can’t. It’s either north or south.
(A few more seconds of tense silence)
OMC: We’re south of Leeds and north of London.
KSR.com: So it’s a southern chippy?
(A few more seconds of tense silence)
KSR.Com: Where are you from in the UK?
KSR.com: That’s London.
(More tense silence)
KSR.com: Do you sell ‘Savaloies’?
OMC: No, we don’t. But we do sell ‘Mushy Peas’…
KSR.com: OK… Northern chippy.
OMC: … and Deep Fried Mars Bars…
OMC: Deep Fried Mars Bars.
KSR.com: Deep Fried Mars Bars?
OMC: It’s a Scottish delicacy.
KSR.com: I’ve never even seen one of them, let alone had one.
OMC: Every chippy in Scotland sells them so I thought “why don’t I put them on as a bit of a talking point”. I made some up for a group who came in here the other night. One of them said he liked it… he was from Denmark. The others said they were glad they’d had one, but they wouldn’t have one again.
(More tense silence)
KSR.com: OK… So you were working at the airport… what was the inspiration behind this place? What made you want to start a fish and chip shop on Khao San Road? Have you got chippies in your family or something like that?
OMC: No, not at all. I had to take a course in the UK to become a certified fryer…the British Federation of Fryers… There might be one more place on Phuket but I am definitely the only certified fryer in Bangkok. The inspiration? It was a drunken night on Khao San Road with some mates. We couldn’t be bothered to go down Sukhumvit to the chippy there; it’s a long way for a bag of chips. Two years later I was trying to find a suitable place for a chippy here, and eventually found this place… and it was going to be just a fish and chip shop originally, but it went more from that to a cafe where you can get a breakfast, pies, baked potatoes… that sort of thing. I used to live in this area and I did a bit more research – I knew it wasn’t a place to get a great British breakfast… You can get them on Sukhumvit and I thought “why not do them down here”. Sausages, fried bread, Black Pudding if you want it… The works.
KSR.com: So how long have you been open now?
OMC: We opened in 2006. We opened around Songkran so that was a hectic week…
KSR.com: Really? So you got straight in there selling straight off?
OMC: Yeah, it was the best way to do it, we managed to solve a lot of our problems straight away – if we hadn’t have got straight in there it might have taken longer.
KSR.com: Why do you think it was all so immediate?
OMC: A lot of our regulars are from this area, we’ve got a lot of people from Manager Magazine around the back… they come in at lunchtime… UNICEF as well – we have a few of those people…
KSR.com: So let’s get this straight – UNICEF spend my donation money of chips and mushy peas?
OMC: That’s right… I wanted to make a different sort of place for this area. You’ve got the nice surroundings… It’s…
KSR.com: (Interrupts) I guess its one of those things that, in this area, could be a hit or a miss, and obviously it’s been a hit. A lot of the people I talk to already know about you.
OMC: We did a lot of marketing in places like Ajarn.com, BK magazine, Untamed Travel…
KSR.com: …and the words got out pretty quickly about this great new place on Khao San Road.
OMC: I was amazed – I did a search on the internet and there were lots of posts about me… the Lonely Planet website… ThaiVisa… Stickman… the word’s getting around. What I am finding is that people staying here for 3 or 4 days aren’t just coming in once, we are seeing them a few times. We had one girl who came in here breakfast lunch and diner for three days in a row!
KSR.com: You have certainly got everybody’s interest… There’s a fascination with the idea of an English chippy on KSR. There’s a lot of American influence on the strip with bars, etc. but there are a lot of English people down here, and they stay here longer, so this place redresses the balance a bit.
OMC: That’s right…
KSR.com: So what is absolutely special about this place… apart from Fried Mars Bars?
OMC: We do a ‘Hangover Special’ which is quite popular. It works if you are still drunk as well, one girl told me last week. It’s a fried breakfast with a Bloody Mary… a decent sized Bloody Mary… You know.., the stuff that works when you are not feeling well.
KSR.com: That sounds illegal – lots of carbohydrates and a Bloody Mary?
OMC: Well, we’re off the main drag a bit so nobody can see… but really – it works. I am told anyway. I haven’t had time to get drunk to find out for myself.
KSR.com: That sound’s encouraging…
OMC: But we also do meals that you probably won’t find in other places, things like “Boiled Eggs with Soldiers”, which are selling like hot cakes. We are doing about 10 or 15 plates every day.
KSR.com: Who too?
OMC: The Indian tailors… They love them.
KSR.com: “Boiled Eggs with Soldiers?”
KSR.com: I thought that was strictly for the under 5s?
OMC: Yeah, it is, but everyone likes to go back.
OMC: Cheese on Toast… You see people who have been traveling for 6 months and they come here and have Cheese on Toast… you’d think they were in some sort of fancy French restaurant or something.
KSR.com: Well, it’s very exotic food in these parts; thousands of miles away from the United Kingdom… don’t look down your nose at Cheese on Toast.
OMC: We use proper cheese… imported… not those processed cheese slices.
KSR.com: Aren’t you a bit daunted at the prospect of moving into something like this with the rents so high around Khao San?
OMC: I think having been here so long I had a good idea of what I was getting into, and I didn’t start the place to become a millionaire… that’s not want I wanted… As long I can pay my rent I am happy.
KSR.com: And we certainly think you are going to do that. You’ve done really well at conveying an ‘English Experience’ – it does make you feel like you are back in the UK. Have you had any fights in here yet?
OMC: (Laughs) We had 5 soldiers who were on leave from Kosovo. They had come out here for some R&R. They asked me what was on the drinks menu and I only have beer – no shorts at present – but I do sell Bloody Mary. They asked me what was in a Bloody Mary and they just had 5 straight Vodkas. In the end they had 2 bottles of Vodka. 10 bottles of Singha, 4 Changs… one of them kicked a table over. But it was all done in the best possible taste. They were alright…
KSR.com: Sounds like any small English town on a Saturday night… excellent. And you need that sort of thing for the authentic English experience.
OMC: Exactly. (Laughs) No… to be honest we keep that element out. But we do show ‘Eastenders’ every Sunday, so if you really are missing the authentic English experience you should come down.
KSR.com: The omnibus edition?
KSR.Com: OK Chris… That sort of raps things up for us. Thanks for your time and best of luck with everything you are doing.
OMC: Thanks – it’s been a pleasure.