Where is your family from and why did you move to the UK?
My family is from Khao Kho, in the North of Thailand, and I left to live in Hong Kong when I was 18. I eventually moved from Hong Kong to the UK because my three children lived in the UK and I wanted to be closer to them.
You and your husband Alex started the business - what is the story behind the first Rosa’s restaurant?
When we moved to London we couldn’t find many Thai restaurants near us, so we started a stall in the nearby Brick Lane market selling Thai food every Sunday. It was a great success so we began looking for somewhere more permanent and found an old English caff called ‘Rosa’s Café’ close to the market. We moved in and didn’t have any money for branding or to change the sign, so the name stuck!
How quickly did you expand to create the successful chain that you now run?
Our second site opened a year after the first restaurant opened. From then on we opened one every year, using our cashflow to expand. It was 10 years before the 10th site opened. Rosa’s is now 11 years old and we have 18 sites and growing!
What influence have your family had on your cooking and have your recipes been inspired by family members?
A lot of my recipes were influenced by them. My parents, grandmother and auntie taught me how to cook fantastic food. Back then, children would always have to help in the kitchen - they would get us to pound the curry pastes in a pestle and mortar. Being in the kitchen gave me knowledge of Thai cooking. My red curry paste comes directly from my family recipe - it’s the base for so many dishes. When I was growing up our curry pastes were never ready-made - we always made them by hand and that’s still the case today.
Are you personally hands-on in the day to day operations?
Day to day I still check up on the food served at each site. I can’t visit every site personally but I check photos from the managers, as well as fans on Instagram! If I see something that doesn’t look quite right I’ll let the team know - I want to make sure everything looks right and doesn’t change from my vision!
How do you choose your locations?
From day one, I’ve always used my own metric - it has to be a great location in an area with strong footfall. We look for places with trendy restaurants nearby and nice neighbourhoods where we can become part of the community.
The Rosa’s chain is expanding in a market that is currently seeing a number of closures – how are you managing to do this?
Because we are serving great, honest food! When we started out we didn’t try to be greedy, so we use good quality ingredients but also sell our food at a good price. We can survive and expand by getting the best price for everyone, including our customers.
Are the menus in all your restaurants the same or do you offer something different at each?
Almost all the menus are the same but a couple of sites have special dishes on the menu depending on the head chef. We will be bringing out some specials in the new year, so watch this space!
Do you offer a delivery service? Will this be available from the new Clapham Junction site?
Yes we do! We are on Deliveroo and this is live at Clapham now.
Sustainability is important to you – how do you minimise your food miles when obtaining the ingredients you need?
We try to use as many local ingredients as possible. We try hard to balance our food miles with authenticity, so we only import the ingredients we can’t get here. For example, Thai ingredients such as galangal and coconut milk have to be imported. If we can get it locally we won’t ship it in.
When we spoke previously you mentioned investing in a local hospital in Thailand – this is obviously going back to your home town – what is the story there and how have you been able to help?
With donations from the team at Rosa’s, we donated supplies to the Khao Kho hospital in my hometown. I want to help people in need and I believe in giving back to the community that I grew up in. I can help more people this way as it makes good treatment more accessible. For example, I donated an X-ray machine along with a heart monitor, beds and blankets. Rosa’s has helped me get to this point, so I want to give back. We also ran a 10-year birthday campaign which raised £2,000! We hope to work with them again in the future.
You have published 2 recipe books – Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Cookbook and Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Vegetarian Cookbook – do you have plans for any others?
Yes! I’d like to publish a book on Isaan food with more grilled dishes and salads. I want more people to explore Northern Thai dishes as people don’t really know about it and it’s the kind of food I grew up with!
I’ll just keep thinking about food! I’d like to bring more healthy dishes into the business, and we’re working on a rotating specials menu, so I’m constantly involved and thinking about new dishes inspired by my travels to Thailand!
When can you put your feet up?!
Never! For me, work keeps me going, and cooking keeps me happy. I can’t stop! Every single day I cook at home and bring it with me to give to my staff and that will never change.
Rosa’s restaurant is now open at
54 Northcote Road, SW11 1PA