Mention the name Baiyoke and an iconic Bangkok skyscraper will probably come to mind. The tower is part of the business group owned by the family of the same name and it contains the four-star Baiyoke Sky Hotel, so it is no surprise that Piyalert Baiyoke, the 37-year-old scion of the family, began his career in the hospitality industry—although his business interests have grown to encompass much more than that.
Piyalert is a vice chairman of the Baiyoke Group and also chairman of PDS Holding, a franchise business that has introduced numerous popular Japanese restaurant chains to Thailand. In fact, Piyalert has an affinity for Japan. After completing his bachelor’s degree in education at Chulalongkorn University he took a gap year in Japan to learn the language before pursuing a master’s degree in marketing at Exeter University in the UK.
“After graduating, I came back to Thailand to help with my family’s businesses in the Baiyoke Group,” he says. “Basically, I went to my father’s office and asked him what I could do to be useful.” His father tasked him with renovating the Baiyoke Boutique Hotel, an old eight-storey establishment close to Baiyoke Tower in the Pratunam district. It was a challenging project for the then 23-year-old to cut his teeth on.
“The most difficult aspect was that I wasn’t given very much in the way of funding for the renovation,” he laughs. “I had a budget of around five million baht to re-vamp 200 rooms. So I came up with a plan to do the work piecemeal. We started with the lobby and a handful of rooms. These we let out to customers and used the income to fund the renovation of the other floors. I was very busy after that, helping to develop marketing strategies and concepts for what became known as the Baiyoke Sky Hotel and later our Hua Chang Heritage Hotel.”
It was at this point that Piyalert had the urge to branch out into something else. A self-confessed foodie, unable to find what he considered to be a decent yakiniku grilled meat restaurant in Bangkok, he decided to seek the franchise for one under PDS Holding.
“It started off as something quite small. I had no plans to grow it but the response was exceptional so we opened a second branch, which did even better. Eventually the people at the brand’s headquarters in Japan noticed our success and struck a deal to buy the restaurants back. It worked out well because the money allowed us to invest in the other brands we run today, which include Japanese ramen outlets such as Uchiyada, Ikkousha and Momotarou, as well as the popular Sekai No Yamachan izakaya restaurants.”
The latest brands in the PDS fold are two popular dessert café franchises, Pablo cheese tart and Gram Pancakes. “I like having something sweet after a meal, so I was pleased that we got them,” Piyalert laughs.
When he’s not focused on expanding his restaurant empire—and he has big plans for his own ramen noodle factory and eventually a listing on the Thai stock exchange—Piyalert can be found watching football, hanging out with friends enjoying a meal or relaxing with his wife Suntharee and nine-year-old daughter Yingpiya.
A driven businessman, he admits that he is trying to slow down a little. “I used to work until three in the morning but recently, I’ve felt like I don’t have much time to myself. Now on Friday afternoons I try to leave a slot free—although I often end up using it to go and check on the restaurants or the hotels anyway,” he laughs. He also has a rule: every Sunday he and his family go to dinner with his parents to spend some quality time together.
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