Rod Jiang

Rod Jiang

Little Thai finding big success

Authentic, affordable and accessible – that business philosophy has been with Little Thai Foods from its beginnings in Shelbourne Plaza to the recent launch of prepackaged curry meals available at grocery stores across Vancouver Island.

It’s also the reason why company president Rod Jiang isn’t planning on marketing any of his personal favourite dishes any time soon.

“I like spicy,” Jiang says grinning, surrounded by a lunch rush of customers at his flagship restaurant on Cook Street. “The way I like it is very spicy and might be too spicy for the public.”

The 45-year-old businessman and his wife Panda, along with brother-in-law Poontra Isarasakdi, opened the Little Thai Place restaurant on Shelbourne in 2003. That store was followed by locations in Victoria, Langford and Royal Oak.

On May 1, Jiang’s team, which includes chef Aree Mukdasri, launched three pre-cooked chicken curry entrées developed from Little Thai Place recipes.

Jiang, careful not to take any credit away from his chefs, exudes confidence that he knows just what to deliver to the public.

“Authentic and delicious with very big portions at the very lowest price,” he says.

Portion size remains one way Jiang tires to differentiate his restaurants in the growing market for Thai food. It was a top priority as he developed the prepackaged meals over the past three years.

Each 400-gram box sells for $4.99 and is intended as one serving – compared to many single-serving prepackaged products which fall in the 200-300 gram-range.

Like all restaurant items, the green, red and yellow chicken curries are preservative-free and meet Health Check nutrition criteria, as well as Halal and Canadian Food Inspection Agency approval – not a simple task for a shelf-stable pasteurized chicken product, prepared in central Bangkok.

“When we first started out, we didn’t know it was going to be that complicated,” he says of the CFIA approval process. “Getting two governments to talk to each other is not easy.”

Jiang, who holds an MBA from the University of Hartford in Connecticut, hopes to have more Little Thai meals available soon, including a line of noodle products and national distribution in place by 2012.

“We worked from ground zero up and that’s how we understand the concept so well, even though we had no experience when we started,” he says.

“We got our hands dirty at the time and that’s the only way to learn.”

Little Thai Foods employs 80 people in Greater Victoria and three in Bangkok. Plans are now underway to open a fifth restaurant downtown.

“We (had customers) lined up on the first day and since then never looked back,” Jiang says.

nnorth@saanichnews.com