Seven years ago, Arnaud Carre was down on his luck, out of a job and not knowing where the next meal was coming from. It was a particularly bitter experience for the French butcher, and he doesn’t mind admitting it, especially after a glittering career in several of the world’s top restaurants.
Today, he is the partner in one of the most distinctive and successful restaurant brands in Thailand, Arno’s. With 18 outlets around the country, and more planned here and overseas, his company is rightly perceived as a superstar among local restaurants owners.
Arnaud’s fortunes were transformed after a chance meeting with a Thai businessman who shared his passion for steak. Together they opened a butcher’s shop in Bangkok and then set about educating Thai consumers on why quality beef should become a regular part of their diet.
Despite a not unexpected downturn in business because of Covid19, Arno’s Group, as the company is known, remains a formidable force in Thailand’s exciting restaurant and catering industry. And Arnaud can feel proud of his achievement.
Owner, butcher and head chef of Arno’s Group.
Born: Brittany, France.
Educated: Brittany, by my father who comes from a long lineage of professional chefs, four generations to be exact. I’m the fifth.
Family: Father and a sister in France, Thai wife in Bangkok.
Profession: Entrepreneur in the restaurant business.
Residence: Nang Linchi, Bangkok.
Company: Arno’s Group, divided into five different categories – factory, for central distribution; Arno’s Butcher and Eatery; Arno’s Burgers; Arno Thai by Arno’s; and Arno’s delivery service.
Personal working hours: For four years I worked from 9am to 11pm, seven days a week. Nowadays, I work less, five or six days. Actually I love my job so it’s never work to me.
Hobbies: Watching football, smoking cigars. Dieting.
Favorite Bangkok restaurants: Philippe on Sukhumvit 39, and a Japanese restaurant called Koken – good quality, good price. And I love some Thai street vendors.
Favorite drink: I’m passionate about whisky and cognac, and of course French wine.
First job: Butcher/ cook in Lencieux, a town on the border of Brittany.
Then: Spent the next 15 years in New York where I opened a butcherie called The French Butcher, and later worked at Les Halles, the famous French restaurant headed by executive chef, author, and television personality Anthony Bourdain, where I gained a reputation for my beef preparations. I also worked at the prestigious Gramercy Park Hotel on Second Avenue.
Next: In New York, I met Alain Leroy, owner of the Indigo restaurant here in Bangkok, who became a good friend. He invited me to help open the first dry-aged beef restaurant in Thailand. The idea was a venue that would bring people together to share a good affordable steak.
The project didn’t work out so instead I became the general manager of Indigo in Convent Road for the next five years. I also took care of Indigo’s various butcherie outlets.
When that ended, I took on a series of small poorly paid jobs, never knowing how I was going to eat the next day. It was a tough time.
Fortunately, a friend of mine put me in touch with someone who would become my business partner right up to this day, Khun Supanit Chaiyawat, who wanted to open a butcher’s shop in Bangkok.
We shared the view that there was an untapped market here in Thailand for experienced butchers, and we wanted to change the Thai mindset about beef and show it can be just as appetizing as pork or chicken.
I looked for a suitable site at the right price, but nothing came up. Luckily, Khun Supanit had land he wasn’t using on Naradhiwat Road. It wasn’t in good condition, but we saw the potential and how it could be turned into a shop with a few tables for customers to taste the beef. We called it Arno’s Butcher and Eatery.
It opened six years ago, a very ‘sabai-sabai’ kind of place, with little in the way of decoration, several display freezers where customers could choose their meats to be cooked their preferred way in what was then a tiny kitchen, and we had a ‘no corkage’ policy – one of the first places in Bangkok to do so.
Word quickly spread about us and by the end of the third week, the restaurant was being regularly overbooked. We needed to expand the premises and build a bigger kitchen.
Our customers were mostly Thais, from the middle to high class range, along with lots of actors and VIPs.
When you start a new business, you always expect it to be successful, but we never dreamed of Arno’s taking off the way it did. It was amazing.
By the end of 2016, together with an additional new partner, Dr Suripong Leunggvarinkul on board, we decided to open a burger restaurant and found a place nearby on Naradhiwat Soi 15. It wasn’t just for burgers – we added steaks, fish, lamb and vegetables. The restaurant was really popular.”
Having come up with a winning formula, Arnaud and his team went on to open more outlets on major roads throughout Bangkok, including Sunanplu, Wireless, Ratchaphreuk, Srinagarinda, Silom, Phra Athit, and four locations on Sukhumvit. The group has also opened three Arno Thai by Arno’s outlets in the city.
Upcountry Arno’s can be found in Pattaya and Chiang Mai.
Currently, the group’s central kitchen includes a butcher’s bakery and pastry shop. Its meats are both imported and from local suppliers. It has 300 staff, including one French chef for its riverside restaurant on Phra Athit.
Three of its restaurants have recently introduced a range of pizza starting at 140 baht.
Looking ahead, Arnaud wants to open a factory in Bangkok. Meanwhile plans to expand into Vietnam have been put on hold. “We’re thinking of China and we’d love to open in Hong Kong and Singapore.”
Despite many requests, Arnaud is not franchising the brand. “It’s a very distinctive brand, with my name on it. So I’m responsible, ultimately, for the quality of a franchise.”
The success of Arno’s has predictably attracted lookalike outlets. Lots of them. Arnaud is not fazed. “I don’t care about copycats. They need to be at least as big and as good as me, which they won’t be.”