Career corporate takes Thai food franchise global

By Nick Hall | 15 Jan 2020 View comments

“We really appreciate diversity; it helps us grow.” That’s the message Top K., founder and CEO of Thai food franchise Monkey King Thai has instilled from day one at his Sydney restaurant.

Now, with outlets across Sydney, Shanghai and one soon to open in Melbourne, the former career corporate turned Thai food franchisor has reason to smile.

‘It’s funny,” he says. “I came to Australia in 2000 to study through home-stay and on the first day, my host family greeted me with a green curry, and it was so good!”

“That really opened my eyes to how diverse the Australian dining scene is. There really isn’t a dominant cuisine, and the Australian public are really open to eating new things.”

After completing his studies in Australia, Top returned overseas to commence life in the corporate world. His journey took him to the heights of APAC leader for global information technology business IBM in China, but at the request of his brother, Top took the step out of his comfort zone and into the kitchen.

“My brother is 12 years younger than me and he always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Throughout our childhood, we saw how my grandmother cooked and it was hard work, but I believed that with my business and management experience, I could put together a business case that offered lifestyle,” he says.

The Monkey King Thai journey

That was more than five years ago, and to this day Top still employs the same management processes he developed while in corporate management positions.

“Just like when I was at IBM, all the managers meet on Tuesday, we review the dashboard, assess KPIs and chart how we are travelling on our career pipeline objectives. Many of the workers we have are students or on a temporary visa, but we always put the option forward, that if they work hard, we’d be happy to sponsor them.”

While Monkey King Thai may not be a household name just yet, the casual dining Thai food franchise chain is slowly gathering international appeal.

Thai food franchise aspirations

The brand recently launched its inaugural Chinese location in bustling downtown Shanghai.

“At the moment, Shanghai is one of the hottest cities in the world,” Top explains. “Transportation is so cool, the population is huge, there is a lot of disposable income and more than anything, Shanghai residents value eating.”

The expansion has been enormously successful. Taking his refined Australian system and replicating it in China has allowed the Thai food franchise to break into the landscape with ease. Top reveals that after only four weeks, the outlet was the highest rated restaurant on the Chinese version of Trip Advisor.

He puts the Shanghai success down to the foundations he laid here in Australia.

“We’ve always been really selective; we believe in a strong foundation” Top explains.

“I see a lot of new food operators who judge success by the number of stores, we don’t. Instead we think long-term, we are looking for someone with the same DNA as us.”


Culture fit is key for Monkey King Thai. Top reveals that many of the chain’s franchisees aren’t experienced in the hospitality industry at all.

“Different cultural angles are what we love. I can teach anyone to cook in two to four weeks, and I can do this because we segment roles. In many restaurants, you need to know everything, but at Monkey King Thai you train on a specific skill. We believe that the system runs people, but people run the business.”