Growing up in a poor [part of rural Thailand Saiphin Moore dreamt of having her own restaurant. She has just opened her 17th in Leeds. Catherine Scott meets her
Saiphin Moore may have grown up in a poor, rural part of Thailand but she always wanted more.
Coming from a farming family who grew vegetables Saiphin always had an affinity with food handed down from her grandmother and mother.
“From a very young age I would have to get up early to put the rice on to cook,” recalls Saiphin, from a village which didn’t have electricity until she was 15. It was a very hard life being a farmer in Thailand. We all had our part to play, me and my brother and sisters.”
But even at a young age Saiphin was showing her entrepreneurial spirit. She started her first business at just 14, with a stall selling her noodle dishes to her friends.
Although she knew nothing of the world outside her village, it was while listening to the radio one day after school that Saiphin’s life was to change forever.
“I was 17 and I had just got home from school. There was an advert saying there were huge opportunities for nannies in Hong Kong, I didn’t even know where that was. I hadn’t even been to Bangkok, but there was something that excited me,” she recalls.
“I thought ‘tomorrow I am going to skip school and go and apply for that job.”
She borrowed a dress from a neighbour and set out on the 70km bus journey to Bangkok.
Although she was a year too young to get the job straight away she impressed them so much that within a year by Christmas 1989 Saiphin was on an aeroplane for the first time and heading to a new life in Hong Kong.
“I was working for a Chinese family cooking, cleaning and looking after their two young sons.”
But after six months Saiphin started to get second thoughts.
“I was very homesick and I just didn’t feel qualified to look after two small children, I was pretty much a child myself.”
But the family was very supportive and said they would do what they could to help Saiphin stay in Hong Kong
“On my one day off a week I would wander the food markets in Kowloon, there was a Thai restaurant there and applied for a job which I got,” recalls Saiphin.
“I continued to work for the family in the mornings and then I would go to work in the restaurant, get back to the family to cook their evening meal and then go back to the restaurant.”
Saiphin juggled these two jobs for two years while also building up contacts in the food markets where she became well known.
Although she had enjoyed working the restaurant, especially helping to buy the produce from the markets, she really wanted her own business.
With all the contacts she’d made she set up her own grocery shop, takeaways and then restaurants called Tuk Tuk Thai. By then she had met and married Englishman Alex Moore.
But after four years building the business up Saiphin got the urge to move to England and so they sold the businesses and moved to London.
However starting out in a new city wasn’t so easy.
“We moved to England in 2005 but I didn’t know anyone other than my husband and I didn’t really know what to do.”
She spent her time looking after her son and then trawling round markets looking for good produce and once again building up contacts.
She eventually started a weekly food stall in Brick Lane which immediately proved popular,
Then one day her husband Alex saw an empty shop nearby.
“He said that I must go and see this place.
“It was a run- down cafe called Rosa’s but I could immediately see the potential. It was 2008 and no bank would lend us the money. “
So Saiphin asked friends to invest in her business.
“We wanted to keep the name Rosa’s Cafe and one day a man came it and said his mother would be thrilled we had kept her name and then I met her, she was in her 80s and she was so pleased.”
Although Rosa’s was busy with the client base she has built up with her Brick Lane stall she knew to make money she would need to open another one which she did in Soho, funded by the sale of their home in Hong Kong.
She was then approached by a landlord on Carnaby Street who had heard of Roasa’s growing reputation and asked if Saiphin would consider opening one there, which of course she did.
“We decided we’d open seven and then sell the business,” recalls Saiphin, but once they got to seven she says she still wasn’t ready.
There are now 15 Rosa’s cafes in London and earlier this year the first outside of London opened in Liverpool and earlier this month Rosa’s Thai Cafe at Trinity Leeds opened.
Saiphin has now sold her majority share in Rosa’s but she is still heavily involved ensuring that quality and standards are maintained across all her restaurants.
“Much of our produce still comes from the same farmers in Thailand who I visit three or four times a year,” she says.
“I had never planned to have a chain of restaurants, but I believe that each restaurant has stayed true to our ethos and believe about
fresh quality ingredients that people love.”
Upper Dining Terrace, Trinity Leeds, Albion Street, Leeds , LS1 5AY
Opening Times; Mon - Sun 11.30am - 10pm