Weekly Local Biography

 Montana (Gai) Pawittranon

The brains, ‘brawn’ and business sense behind the Bake & Bite Bakery is a young Thai-Chinese woman, ‘Gai’ Pawittranon. She is an independent and forthright person who considers that one reason for her success in life has been her readiness to being prepared to try something different. “Don’t limit yourself by thinking ‘I won’t like it’ - try it!” was her advice.

Gai was born in Lampang, the middle child of three to a hard working rice mill owner and his equally hard working wife, both of Chinese origin. She completed her elementary schooling, still in Lampang, but not really fixed on her career direction. However, she had already found that she had a flair for languages, having been inspired by a Burmese teacher of English in her town. This flair was enough to get her a scholarship to Canada for a two week immersion course in English while she was still at school.

After leaving school, she explained, “I just followed the pattern and did the entrance exam for CMU. After passing I still had no real idea, but Food Technology sounded the most interesting. The word ‘food’ caught my attention.” However, up till that time her only real connection with food was helping her mother in the kitchen after school.

She entered into the study of Food Science and emerged four years later as a food technologist. During her course, which she had entered still harbouring doubts, she found that she began to enjoy it more as she became more involved. “When you begin to understand the scientific processes it is better,” she said. I asked her whether cooking was art or science and she led me to understand that following a recipe was science, but being creative with the recipe - that was ‘art’.

Her expertise in English continued, winning yet another total immersion scholarship to go to New York to study English. This event was to have far reaching effects on her later life.

After completion of the degree course at CMU, she took a job as a laboratory technician in a drinking water factory. This she did for 12 months as she had already decided that her next move was to the USA, after her very positive New York experiences. “I was determined to go to America for my Masters degree.” She was also lucky in the fact that her parents were supportive and discussed where she should go and how they could help.

The close family unit, as seen in S.E. Asia, propelled her towards the University in Michigan where she had cousins already resident, with one a teacher there. She studied for an MBA, the Master’s course taking three years. Again this was something a little different from her previous experience. “To me the challenge is to see how much I can do.”

Despite shifting over to the Business Administration, she had not deserted ‘food’, working part-time in a restaurant during this time. “The more I did, the more I enjoyed. I could see how a well equipped kitchen could make money.” She also said, “The opportunity to do part-time work was fantastic.”

After successful completion of her MBA it was time to return to Thailand. “I came back with the hopes and dreams of doing something in the food industry.” Those hopes were initially realised by her accepting a position as the sales manager of a frozen food company in Chiang Mai. However, after one year she was sure this was not her future career, even though it did teach her something about restaurant kitchens, visiting many of them while trying to interest disinterested chefs in frozen vegetables.

She stuck with food for her next position, helping in the production section of the Dacheese Company in Chiang Mai. “It wasn’t a glamorous job, working in the factory, but it gave me an idea of how many foreigners lived in Chiang Mai and what they want.”

After 12 months there, she was offered the chance of working as the restaurant manager of the Art Cafe. Again she did not limit herself by wasting time wondering whether or not she would like the job - she flung herself into it, for the next two years. “Somehow it sounded more exciting than working in the factory and I found that people now told me what they wanted. The idea of having my own business became clearer and clearer, and after two years it was time to move on.”

That moving on took her to Australia where she studied a French baking programme for three months, with the concept being to open a bakery in Chiang Mai on her return. This was the start of the Bake & Bite. “I had learned that a restaurant was just too much, and a small bakery was better.”

One reason for this was that she wanted a balance in her life. There was more to life and living than just working, despite her strong Chinese background ethos. To balance the work side of her life, there was the leisure side. She had always enjoyed sport at school and university and her ‘balance’ involves her these days in tennis, “Any day that it doesn’t rain.”

Gai has remained single by choice. “I enjoy lots of friends, good company and a busy business. I am not ready for raising children.” The ‘family’ lifestyle does not even figure in her future thoughts - financial security does instead. Perhaps this is again a reflection of her Chinese heritage. “Over the next 8 to 10 years I want to build up financial security first. I want to retire at an age when I am still very active.” In Gai’s mind, this will be around 45 years of age.

She is a very determined young woman who has managed to combine the best of her heritage with the best of her calm intellectual experience of the world. She has not become a woman’s ‘libber’ with something to ‘prove’ to society, but remains a delightful young lady.