14 July 2024

“This year, I don’t know why we fight, it will not make a difference. We have been making sacrifices for a whole year already. This is not ‘back to zero,’ this is worse than last time,” said the owner of CHU, a very popular eatery in the heart of Bangkok, which finally decided to close down for good, after providing over a decade of service.

CHU was the first thing people would see when coming off the Sky Train, heading to the Exchange Tower building at the Asoke intersection. People loved the place for its hot chocolate, its brownies, or for their brunch with coffee.

Chirayu Na Ranong, co-founder and owner of CHU, told Thai PBS World that his back is now against the wall. He has been paying rent for 130 months and, as a long-term tenant, he received only a 15% discount for 3 months during the pandemic, while barely making enough money to get by. This year, when the third wave of COVID-19 hit Bangkok, his savings finally ran out, he could no longer afford the rent and the landlord wouldn’t compromise.

Landlord vs tenant

A few days ago, Chirayu posted a video clip on his social media showing the building manager and a police officer observing him while packing and moving out of the restaurant space. It sparked anger among the restaurant’s fans to the point that, on the last day, the unsympathetic landlord call police in to “keep peace and order.”

Though he feels that the landlord could do more to help tenants, and he disliked this landlord very much, he said they are not actually obliged to help, and landlords have not been getting any help from the government either.

CHU remained on the rental contract with the Exchange tower but, since Chirayu could not pay the rent, the landlord just cut the power and water supplies. That was when Chirayu decided CHU had come to an end.

The landlord offered to terminate the contract without penalty, if Chirayu agreed not to take back the rental deposit, delete all social media posts that imply there was a conflict between him and the landlord and post a statement for 14 days explaining how the situation between them is actually fine and the parting was by mutual agreement.

CHU’s space is now almost empty. The fixtures and fittings, however, could not be taken out, because the landlord demanded a 100K deposit from Chirayu before a contractor would be allowed access to remove them, plus rent for the number of days that he would need to remove everything.

Chirayu said he will not leave quietly, since he is obligated to obey the government’s restrictions, which are a big part of the reason CHU failed. “Government has not helped, and the landlord has not helped either,” he added.

No help from government

“There is no way. If they (the government) didn’t help us last year, they would not help us this year,” Chirayu said, explaining why he is not hoping for government help.

Since the lockdowns have never been a full mandated closure, the government did not have to compensate the affected restaurant employees. Restaurant owners have to bear everything, Chirayu said.

Just before the third wave of COVID-19 hit Bangkok, he told his landlord that another lockdown would just “kill” him. He spent all his savings on the rent and other expenses, to try to keep the restaurant going.

So, when the government announced restaurant restrictions in April this year, Chirayu said he wept, because he knew it is the point where he could not continue.

Thai PBS World referred to the soft loan scheme that the Thai Restaurant Association proposed to the government, to help keep the businesses going, but he said he does not want any more debt, which would just be his additional burden.

Chirayu said what the government could do is to help bear some expenses, such as payroll, so businesses don’t have to lay their staff off or put in place measures to keep the landlord and the renters from getting in a conflict.

The damage

Early last month, the Association of Thai Restaurants reported that it has received many complaints from restaurateurs that the tough measure, which only allows take-home and delivery services, is severely damaging their businesses, many of which are still reeling from the impacts of previous waves of COVID-19 infections.

It estimated that the damage from the restriction and the new round of infections to the entire foodservice sector, is about 1.4 billion baht per day, and more 50,000 restaurants will have gone out of business by the end of the crisis.

On May 15th, the CCSA eased restrictions by allowing eateries in four Red Zone provinces, which include Bangkok, to seat dine-in customers up to 25% of their capacity and to stay open until 9pm. Take-home and delivery services can operate up to 11pm. Nonetheless, many restaurant owners say their income is still insufficient to survive.

CHU is not the only well-known restaurant to close its doors for good. Even Bo.lan, announced that the Michelin-starred Thai fine dining restaurant is closing, after 13 years of successful operation.

Thai restauranteurs struggle to stay afloat amid rising infections

The current wave of the pandemic is expected to wipe out hundreds of struggling restaurants following the government’s decision to restrict dining in and operating hours in the “dark red” zones, Bangkok among them, where the virus has been spreading quickly since early April.

Throw in the towel

There was a period of a couple of weeks in March when restaurants started to see the light when eateries were allowed to stay open until late and the serving of alcohol was allowed, Chirayu said.

During this latest lockdown, however, most restaurants are not as enthusiastic about fighting on as they were before. Last year, the public saw many new promotions for take-home food and delivery services, many restaurateurs were being very creative, trying to stay afloat, but, Chirayu said, people can see that with this latest round of restrictions, many restaurants are throwing in the towel.

He said his spirits are at a very low point, and he has lost hope over the past year. He was ready to just give up.

In the last 9 days after CHU announced its closure, however, it saw a reaction from its supporters, at levels that were beyond his expectations, number of dine-in customers with supporting comments on social media that made him very emotional and gave him courage. So much so that he might reopen CHU in a new location. As to when and where, that remains to be seen.

by Kiratikorn Naksompop Blauw