Thairific

If you’re in search of authentic Thai Food in the Bay of Quinte, you need not look further than Thairific, a locally owned and operated food truck that prepares traditional Thai food the old fashioned way!

Chanakan Kalapukdee started Thairific in 2015 in Guelph Ontario, operating as a festival food vendor, caterer and private home Chef. Thairific also ran at festivals as a tent vendor from London to Port Credit, Orangeville to Parry Sound and in Belleville, from 2015 to 2019.

The truck runs 5 days a week – plus special events as needed- across Quinte and area. It covers a wide area from Kingston to Brighton and Prince Edward County to Madoc/Tweed. The food on the truck is traditional Thai made as close as can be, the way Chef Chana learned to do it back in Thailand from her mother and grandmothers. She also brings her own flavours to the skill while maintaining the dishes the way they can be found in Thailand!

Challenges and Successes

Chana’s story of becoming an entrepreneur is nothing short of incredible. From the age of 8 picking bamboo shoots in Bangkok to make money, to owning a mobile massage business, and finally to creating Thairific Cuisine Corporation, Chana is no stranger to working hard to see her dreams become a reality. Chana is also the only known survivor of a rare type of adrenal cancer that she was diagnosed with in 2007, and has maintained a survivor attitude in all of her entrepreneurial adventures!

Reflecting on Thairific’s challenges, Chana shares that the biggest hurdle in growing was financial. She and her husband Brad Labadie put a significant amount of their own money into the company before deciding to look into the option of owning and operating a food truck. They tried to work with their banking institute to get the right funding to purchase the truck, but were unsuccessful. However, thanks to the BDC who worked with them and also recommended Trenval, they were finally able to get the financing they needed to make the truck happen.

“The second challenge we had in order to prepare for growing the business, was what to do about both our full time jobs,” Chana shares. “At what point do you quit and just concentrate on the business? This was a big struggle because both Brad and I loved what we did before we opened the business, and the additional income also ensured that our business could stay afloat in these first crucial years. Brad finally made the decision recently to retire and now runs Thairific full time!”

The food truck has now run for two years and Brad and Chana are eagerly prepping for the upcoming third season. They want to share that Thairific is so much more than a food truck: they also provide catering and in-home private chef services. In 2023, they were on course to make a record sales year, but then the truck experienced a significant mechanical issue.

“Even with that setback, Thairific still sees its customer base increase every month,” Brad says, always maintaining a positive attitude despite the hurdles. “The truck has definitely been a key piece of this success!”

Many of their success stemmed not just from their unique offerings, but how they approached marketing the business. After investing in radio ads, they saw people come all the way from Prince Edward County to the north End of Belleville just to try the food. They also have a great relationship with their customers and see the same faces frequently at the truck.

In just a few short years, Thairific’s social media following has also significantly increased, and they have received immensely positive feedback from the community.

Trenval Experience

Of course, their success was supported in part by the folks at Trenval. Brad knew about Trenval through his interaction with the organization during his time with the Centre for Workforce Development. They originally approached BDC, who then brought Trenval into the mix because they felt that Thairific could achieve overall better financial support for the food truck. It became a collaborative initiative with Trenval brining in a 5 year term loan towards the purchase and build of the truck.

“I did not know much about Trenval or BDC but Brad did. When Brad shared what the staff at BDC suggested and we then got connected into Trenval for financial support, I was excited that we just might make the truck a reality. Trenval staff always communicated well with us and allowed us to ask questions. I was very nervous meeting with their financial committee but they put me at ease which helped me answer their questions. Without Trenval, I am not sure we would have the great truck we do!” Chana admitted.

Community Impact

Brad and Chana feel that the full impact that Thairific has on the community has yet to be fully realized. In the first year, they were able to hire two part-time staff for most of the season. In year two, one part-time staff returned and has now become a regular seasonal part-time member of the truck team.

Thairific has also provided a few students with experiences in weddings and special events through the catering side of the business.They hope that by year five, they can provide 2 full time positions within the business.

Brad and Chana have also given back a lot of the love that they have received from the community. In 2023, they partnered with the Belleville General Hospital Foundation and hosted the BGHF Spring Roll Days. All proceeds from sales on those days went to BGHF. In December, a total of $1,350 was donated. Brad and Chana plan to continue this initiative in 2024 because they feel it provides crucial donations where they are most needed in the community.

In looking forward, both Brad and Chana are excited about what the future holds.

“We see Thairific as expanding beyond just a food truck and catering, and into the world of sauces,” Brad admits. “Although this was not in the original business plan, extensive research showed both a demand for a traditional Pad Thai Sauce, and one that would also meet the needs of Vegans/Vegetarians!”

Chana and Brad have been working with the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre to develop these sauces, and the experience has been filled with a lot of learning curves for the couple.

Watch the website for more information as it evolves and becomes available at a store near you!

Final Thoughts on Working with Trenval

“If you have a business idea and don’t know where to go with it, you need to connect with Trenval. Their expertise, along with others at the Small Business Centre, will not only help you in building your idea into a viable business plan, but they can assist you with looking at all financing options to get you off the ground!” – Brad and Chana

Article written by Theresa Gannon ( Simpledesk.ca )

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