How Lincoln changed a LAYMAN to an Entrepreneur
Updated: Nov 28, 2018
Not many know that the delicious Thai food we've been enjoying at Pintoh restaurant across from Lincoln University is owned by our very own alumni, Mr. Akara Sutraomluck. Pintoh, which is a Thai word for the portable tiffin boxes that children carry to school everyday filled with mom-made food, cooked with hand-picked fresh ingredients and love. This is what they have been serving at their restaurant since opening a year ago. They are a small business run by a handful of immigrant/LGBTQ employees who aspire to give everyone a taste which is as good as Thai home cooking. We managed to get an interview with Akara, to hear about his journey from Lincoln student to business owner.
Q. How do you think Lincoln University has helped you reach where you are?
Akara: After earning my degree in International Business at Lincoln University, I knew that I wanted to open my own business over here. The knowledge I received from Lincoln made me confident enough to professionally run a business. Before Lincoln I did not have any prior business knowledge, but it has helped me in many ways, such as understanding the market to better implement strategies and to create networks for business.
Q. So who was your favorite professor?
Akara: I liked a lot of professors at Lincoln (laughs). Prof. Anokhin and Prof. Ashurov were a couple. My advisor Dr. Guerra guided me a lot during my internship.
Q. Tell us about the whole experience of opening a business in the U.S.
Akara: To open a restaurant in the U.S. is more difficult. Back in my country, it was easier. Here there is more paperwork; you must follow so many step-by-step instructions. You have to invest a lot of money and time, you need a lot of patience, and you must remember every single minor detail. The most important thing for survival is that you constantly need to do something new all the time.
Q. Did the experience in the beginning scare you?
Akara: At first it wasn’t scary at all. I think we had a lot of fun, we did many things in the restaurant like painting the walls and setting up the place. More than being scared I think we were more concerned. We had normal questions like any new business does going through our head like, “Are we going to get the investment back?” or “Will customers like our concept, our food, or us as a business?"
Q. What's been the most difficult aspect of opening a business here?
Akara: After opening the restaurant, the most difficult part was related to staffing. To get people to come to work was the biggest challenge. Most of them are part time so they do not show up according to the schedule we set for the week. And when someone doesn’t show up we have to change the entire course of action and make new plans to ensure the operation runs smoothly.
Also, in the beginning, we had some customers who were “difficult”. We had some negative feedback, which made me broaden my mind and make changes so people could see improvement.
Q. Were there any surprises along the way... what has been the most unexpected part of this process?
Akara: Oh, every day is a surprise (laughs). You cannot expect anything at all. There are things that I am in control of and some that are beyond my control, like I told you about, how people don’t show up at work. So we have to think on our feet and be ready with a contingency plan all the time.
Q. So what's next for you? I heard you got the business visa for the restaurant.
Akara: Yes, we did. I think this year of experience running Pintoh has made me think of the possibility of opening in new locations in the Bay Area. Although, I would like to avoid SF because there is so much competition from businesses of different sizes that a local mom-and-pop business like mine needs more time before competing.
Q. As an alumni what suggestions do you have for our current students?
Akara: I think everyone needs to see the job market as an open arena and try not to be narrow minded about finding jobs in exactly what they studied. The knowledge that you have learned can be applied anywhere. That’s it!
Q. How would you describe the job market from your perspective?
Akara: I had plans to go back to my home country because I had a job ready for me back there, but then I had my kid over here and I thought that he has a better future over here.
Q.If the business did not work the way you wanted, would you have considered going back?
Akara: I would have looked for other jobs in that case because my intention is to get as much experience as I can. I worked in Thailand before joining Lincoln University, but I like it here more... because you can make a lot of money here (laughs).
“Great things are done by a series of small things put together”- Vincent Van Gogh. Akara’s experience should inspire us, especially as he is our alumni.
Also, he is offering a 10% discount to all Lincoln University students. So, make sure you go with your university I.D. next time you visit Pintoh!