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Phuket’s Wine Connection Asian empire at 33



PHUKET: WINE Connection is no longer just a place to pick up a bottle for a special occasion. It is expanding rapidly, launching new bistro-bar-deli outlets nationwide. Four out of the six Phuket branches are going in this direction.

The company’s new 150-seat flagship eatery at Central Festival is a testament to the new business model and how far the company has come since its first wine shop opened 12 years ago in Chalong.

As the largest of all the company’s 23 Thai outlets – there are 10 more split between Vietnam and Singapore – the new venture is a sprawling expanse occupying a sizable corner slice of the ground floor at Central Festival.

As a mainstay of the company, the wine shop is still a major lure for customers visiting the new outlet, but there’s more to occupy time here too. There’s the restaurant, a deli and even a bar that stays open until midnight, long after the last shoppers have left for the evening.

Wine Connection Chief Executive Officer Michael Trocherie says the company is committed to expansion.

“We started the new bistro-bar-deli concept at our branch in Sukhumvit, Bangkok. It’s really doing well. It’s full all the time, so we expect the same format in Phuket to work too,” he said.

Michael said the sizeable space available at Central Festival was too good an opportunity to pass on.

The new store has a cosmopolitan feel that you would find in Bangkok. It strikes you as soon as you enter.

As the Gazette ambles through the new Wine Connection, we pass several chefs working in the open-air cold kitchen who are preparing imported meats and cheeses for customers.

The interior as a whole is elegant and decor is chic without being kitschy or pretentious. Large pools of light pour in through the floor-to-ceiling windows during the day.

On the weekday that the Gazette stopped in at the new Wine Connection, the place was half-full at lunchtime. The new concept seems to be catching on.

There is both indoor and outdoor seating. In the back of the establishment there is a substantial bar, where staff polish glasses and go about their duties.

Past the attentive – and impeccably dressed staff – is an open-plan hot kitchen where Executive Chef Laurent Valette and his staff are hard at work preparing food for the even-keeled cross-section of expats, locals and tourists dining in the restaurant.

“People can shop for their wine, they can buy deli items and, if they want to, they have the choice to enjoy these things in the restaurant at the same price as the retail,” Michael explains.

Although he is keen to let us know the new venture follows a similar format to his other bistro-bar-deli outlets, there is one difference: the music, which after the shopping center closes goes up a few notches.

After dark, the mood at the new outlet is one of ambient cool.

“We want to be able to accommodate people and stay open late. Here you can walk in at 9:30pm and eat casually and not have the feeling that we are rushing to close the place and cleaning around you. We clear from midnight,” he says of the new opening times.

The bistro-bar-deli concept has been a hit in Bangkok and now Michael is adamant the Central Festival venture will be as successful as the others, if not more.

With a wide selection of wines, breads, cheeses, meats and other deli items supplementing lengthy menus which abound with Mediterranean flavors, the late opening time and readily available parking, this new venture will no doubt capture the imagination of shoppers and foodies alike.

Whether it’s for a late-night liqueur or a breakfast baguette, Wine Connection seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue of late.

— Alexandra Andersson


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