Starting out as a quaint, little hole-in-the wall establishment tucked away in the streets of Malate, DOON Thai and Asian Fusion Cuisine is a popular restaurant among Lasallians, Benildeans, and Scholasticans to satisfy their Thai food cravings. AJ Puno, a young Fil-Chi entrepreneur and part-owner of DOON, shares the story behind their business and how they were able to expand and continue to offer authentic Thai food.
How It All Started
DOON Thai and Asian Fusion Cuisine serves authentically crafted Thai food with home grown ingredients cooked in traditional Thai herbs and spices. Originally planned to be a canteen-like establishment to cater to their dormitory tenants, AJ and his family decided to leverage their knowledge in Thai food and create something they could share with others. “My father had extensive knowledge of Thai cooking because of a Thai business partner whom he had worked with back in the day in their travel agency business. This knowledge, he had passed down to us [his children] and we have decided to ponder as to why not try to put up a Thai Restaurant ourselves,” he says.
Complementing their background, they also took advantage of the Taft area where many well-traveled students thrive and the lack of establishments serving Thai food, making them stand out. With many hungry students having their Pad Thai or Tom Yum fix during their breaks or after classes, DOON was able to expand three years later and opened another restaurant at the Paseo de Magallanes Commercial Center in Makati City.
Amazing Food At Modest Prices
Good food doesn’t always mean expensive. AJ emphasizes that one of their main selling points is how their customers are able to enjoy these authentic Thai dishes without breaking their wallets. Taking pride in the quality of their food with no shortchanging whatsoever, DOON continues to attract customers regardless of how big or small their budgets are. “We were able to brand ourselves as ‘Authentic Thai food at an affordable price’ initially, and that we were also able to incorporate that with an accompanying ‘homey’ atmosphere. We try to make customers feel that we stand out when it comes to a dining experience that is rather ‘laid-back,’” he emphasizes.
While all of their menu items are fast moving, the most popular picks among their customers are the Seafood Pad Thai, Chicken Satay, Tom Yum, and Thai Spring Rolls. “When it comes to top-of-mind Thai food, what automatically comes into the minds of people is Pad Thai, a staple tamarind based rice-noodle dish that many Thailanders consider everyday food. The Pad Thai says a lot about our identity and we make sure that the taste of our dish would take people back to the streets of Bangkok. As for the rest of the dishes, people would order them to accompany the Pad Thai in order to complete a full course meal,” AJ explains. With their food items proving to be all winners, their customers are sure to enjoy whatever they order.
Braving The New Normal
The pandemic has proven to be a big hurdle for food businesses with DOON not being an exception. Ever since the community quarantine started back in March, a lot of adjustments had to be made in order to stay operational amid these trying times. According to AJ, the lack of dine-in customers, a reduction in their staff, and generating sales have been the biggest challenges for their business. “With the lack of dine-in customers due to the pandemic scare, we noticed how things have gone very differently and we had to really gear up and change our game plan in order to sustain the business. We have become more aggressive in online marketing and have been tapping numerous friends to help us get the word around and to make people aware of our services,” he says. AJ also adds that they have become more hands-on with their entire workforce since only one branch could remain open. Even them as owners had to be more active in helping in any way they can to keep the restaurant up and running.
With the quarantine being a few months in, DOON was able to generate a system where they could reach their customers through phoning in their orders and booking couriers for their food to be delivered. Since a lot of businesses have shifted to digital platforms to market their businesses, they also had to adapt to this change and do everything they can to sustain their patrons. In addition, they have also implemented strict health precautions such as limiting direct contact with their customers as much as possible and regular disinfecting of their store to ensure everyone’s safety.
On the bright side, their customers have been quite receptive to the new systems put in place since they are already aware of how they can avail of their products with safety as their top priority, even resulting in a more positive outcome as they are now able to cater to patrons beyond the Makati area.
For AJ, being a young Fil-Chi entrepreneur requires more than just having the skill and knowledge in running a business. Aside from all the technicalities, having the dedication, determination, and humility are three of the most important things that one should emulate. “In order for this restaurant to run the way it should run, I must be on top of many duties and responsibilities. Being the ‘owner’ involves having to oversee all that is happening in the kitchen, dining area, accounting office and marketing. Having awareness of what is happening in every aspect of the business is very important and that you should know where your weak spots are present,” he emphasizes. He also adds that having the determination to work each and everyday is key to achieving his goals for himself and for the business, while still exhibiting humility above everything else. Staying grounded and allowing a collaborative environment to work between him and all of his colleagues enables them to have a strong foundation, yielding better results.
Currently a pilot-trainee, AJ envisions himself as an entrepreneur-aviator with a regular job as an airline pilot while still managing their family business in the near future. With DOON gradually reaching heights, there’s no doubt that their goal of being the top-of-mind Thai restaurant in the Philippines isn’t far from happening.
Check out more of DOON’s offerings here: https://www.facebook.com/DOON.thaifusion/