THE five-storey shop-house that is Sloane’s Artisan meat factory off Sanphawut Road is filled with the glorious aroma of hand-made sausages, salami, hams and other meat products. It’s a mouthwatering sensation.
Visitors to the sparkling clean factory founded by British-born Joe Sloane in Bangkok’s Bangna district are given the same white cap that every employee must wear. The cheery attitude of those employees stems from the good wages, working hours, working conditions and treatment they receive. On the day of the interview, everyone was out the door by 4.30pm, including Joe.
Joe, who moved to Thailand in 2007 with his British wife, is a very amenable, hard-working chap who knows his business well. This is reflected in the remarkable success of Sloane’s Artisan, and the best is almost certainly yet to come.
Joe was born in London and studied catering at a local culinary school before following his love of travel and food to work across three continents. He first learned the basics of butchery and charcuterie while training under Albert Roux, the three Michelin starred Maître Cuisinier de France (Master Chef of France).
“I worked as a chef in some very high-end restaurants in London, but my wife and I both wanted to come to Asia to live and work. She was offered a teaching job in Thailand, and for me as a chef, my thinking was, ‘Well, I love Thai food like most people do. Let’s go, I can’t wait.’
“So we came with the original intention of staying a couple of years. After a while I got to know a few chefs and one of them who had been in Thailand for many years offered me the job of chef de cuisine at The Landmark Hotel’s Rib Room & Bar.
“Later, I decided to open my own business. Actually I had already begun to make my own sausages before I left The Landmark. I found that that no one was producing high quality British-style sausages in Thailand, although there was a very good French butchery at the time in Bangkok. I felt there was a big market for high-end British sausages here and I knew I could supply it.
“My wife works as a teacher at Bangkok Patana School. It’s a British international school and it employs many Brits who were always saying they couldn’t find a good sausage here. So I started to make sausages in the kitchen of my house. When things got busier I converted another room into a little butchery. Then with the help of friends, one of whom is now my business partner, I started seeking out better quality farms to buy the meats from.
“In the UK I was used to working with very excellent, very ethical and very good quality farms, but these weren’t so easy to find in Thailand. However, I did find them and now I work with six or seven very good pig and chicken farms. I also have good beef suppliers, but mainly I use pork. I don’t do lamb. I never found a lamb farmer I could be happy with.”
As the business expanded Joe soon needed more room. “We found this shop house, which had been empty for 10 years, and my business partners and I spent a few months putting the kitchens together. We moved in January 2013.
“We have a total of 20 employees with 12 working here in the kitchens. We also have drivers and four people working in our office in a small shop on Soi La Salle. We have one refrigerated truck and two motorcycles with big cooling boxes on the back. Generally, we start work at 8am and finish at 3.30 to 4pm. On Saturday we work a half day, making preparations for orders and doing a big clean-up. Sunday is always a day off for everyone.
“I think that looking after your staff, which means paying them and treating them well, pays dividends for the business. One of the biggest stresses of running a business is a high turnover and constantly having to train new staff. I am very pleased that the turnover here is very low. Most of my staff has been with me for a few years. I have a very good team here. They work very hard. I look after them and they look after me. That’s how it should be.”
Joe and his team are in the process of moving into a larger, better equipped facility. “We need a bigger space. We acquired quite a large factory in the Bang Phlee area and we’re fitting it with factory production kitchens. Basically we will be in one area downstairs, while here we are spread over five floors with no lift.
“We have just started to produce a range of new salami and other products and in the new factory we will do this on a larger scale. Although we will be moving to a larger factory, we still plan to keep to our roots and everything will be still be made by hand, the extra space just gives us more room and the ability to get the additional certifications.
“Our biggest customers are wholesalers, restaurants and hotels. We supply products to many outlets, from small cafes and coffee shops to five-star hotels like Siam Kempinski and Okura Prestige. We do the breakfast sausages for them. We are going into more top hotels that want better quality products for their breakfasts, partly to distinguish themselves from the cheaper hotels. We also do catering, mainly large jobs like sporting events, and a few weddings as well.”
Sloane’s Artisan products are sold at Gourmet Market outlets and Villa Market branches in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin and, very soon, at a new outlet in Udon Thani, as well as Rimping Supermarkets in Chiang Mai. Meats, cheeses and other goodies can also be purchased at SLOANE’S shop on Soi La Salle (between Sois 34-36) off Sukhumvit 105, opposite Bangkok Patana School, or for home delivery through the online shop on their website.
Joe said the success of his business comes down to supplying better quality products and also working with ethical farms – such farms are in the minority here. “I insist that all of the farms I work with look after their animals properly. I don’t want cages and I don’t want them to be fed with drugs, and when they are slaughtered it needs to be done humanely – this goes for all our meats. Many farms feed the animals with antibiotics and hormones. They give them the drugs to make sure they don’t get ill due to the bad conditions and this isn’t healthy for the animals or the customers.
“I work with an amazing chicken farm in Chiang Rai. The chickens are raised free range and they are fed natural foods. From the very beginning I have worked with farms that battle against the corporate monopoly on chicken and pig farms in Thailand. The good farms feed chickens with organic corn which is grown on the farm.
“Secondly, the chickens have a lot of space to move around instead of being cramped in a small area. They grow naturally and slowly. Chickens from one large company in Thailand take about 30 days to grow because of the drugs and what they do to them. At the farm in Chiang Rai it takes between 60 to 65 days. Doubling the growing time means they are more expensive, but they also taste better.
“There are two reasons I like to work with better farms: One is from the humanitarian side – I don’t believe that any animal should suffer for us. The other thing is that happier pigs taste better. It is as simple as that. It changes the taste of the meat if a pig is stressed and suffers, especially when it is slaughtered. This has been shown scientifically.”
The production methods at Sloane’s Artisan are the other key to high quality. “In producing our sausages we only use natural casings and our recipes avoid the use of unnecessary chemicals, meaning no artificial colours or flavourings. The big companies will basically throw a pig inside a machine with the other ingredients and sausage comes out on the other end. We don’t use big machines. Everything we do here is handmade.
“The same goes for the smoking process. Unlike the big companies, we closely monitor the smoker and control the heat to be sure all the different products are done properly. We have no big machinery and as we grow we will keep it like that.”
Joe’s company continues to branch out and is now supplying high quality cheeses made in Thailand. “I am working with five cheese makers who produce about 30 different types of cheese. I distribute the cheeses wholesale to shops, hotels and so on all over Thailand. The cheeses are Italian, British and French styles and they are amazing in taste and cheaper than imports. Prices for some imports are crazy because of the tax. Some cost 3,000 or 4,000 baht per kilogram, while locally made is usually around 1,000 baht per kilogram. We are also selling various sauces.”
Adapting to the Thai way
At the close of the interview Joe briefly touched on what he’s learned about doing business in Thailand. “Some things are easier here and some things are harder. I wouldn’t say doing business here is better or worse than in the UK, but I will say it is different. When I first came here I had to adapt the way I work as a chef. A kitchen in London is all shouting and screaming, but in Thailand you can’t work like that. This is kind of a good thing really and I do agree with the more laid-back attitude. This is true for doing business in general. You just have to adapt and look at things a bit differently than you would in Europe.”