“Never rush into opening. Take your time. Plan ahead. Stick true to your visions and ideas. Ask yourself why you want to open a bar and are you ready. Lastly, if you have partners, make sure they are in tune with your expectations and vision. Think alike and move forward together.”
Take it from Sha or popularly known as “The Fairy Godfather” among his peers. Shavinraj “Sha” Gopinath is a Singaporean-born entrepreneur and bartender who has been in the hospitality industry for over two decades. With experiences and wisdom that are even beyond his time, you’ll definitely learn a thing or two about the F&B scene and, possibly, aspire to follow in his footsteps.
Let’s take a step back. Throwback to year x (we’re not allowed to disclose this information—kidding!), Sha started as a dishwasher in Singapore. This may come off as a surprise given that he is the (at present time) co-founder of Elysium Enterprise and Philtration, the town’s newest speakeasy. Shocking as it may seem, he always had the fire and keen interest to learn and grow that still proves true until today. How? Through hard work and a whole lot of talking.
Sha’s employers saw his passion and motivation to thrive in the industry, so he was promoted into a Junior Sous Chef. His inquisitive nature and approachable demeanor, though, had a lot of potentials to engage well with customers, so his superiors decided to make him a barback eventually—visibly seen and ready to entertain guests. That’s exactly when his bartender journey began.
Get to know him more:
TABLE: What's your favorite bar?
Sha: I have a few so bear with me. Backstage Cocktail Bar(BKK), Tropic City(BKK), Iron Ball Parlour(BKK), Revolucion Cocktail (BKK), Coley(KL), Bar Trigona(KL), Three X Co(KL), The Old Man(HK), The Wise King(HK), The Old Man (SG), IBHQ(SG), Neon Pidgeon(SG), Skinny's Lounge (SG). Maybe I should stop if not the list will go on and on. Don't forget as I had mentioned I talk too much. You gotta stop me once in a while!
T: What's your go-to drink at the bar?
S: I'm a very simple guy when it comes to my poison. Most of the regular places I hang out in BKK usually know my drink. It's the Rum & Coke. If I were to choose a cocktail then it's the Negroni.
T: Tell us a funny/interesting story you've had so far in your F&B career.
S: You meet very interesting people in our line of work. Different characters and behaviours. I've had so many experiences and can't seem to put my finger on one. My favourite stories usually involve handling people who are overly intoxicated. It's fun to see how people react to the most absurd claims.
Starting at Singapore’s luxury hotel, Swissötel Merchant Court, he went off to work for various renowned brands one after another. These brands include the Ministry of Sound, Privè, 1 Rochester Group, 1 Altitude, Oxwell & Co., Violet Oon, Coriander Leaf, Artemis and Decker Barbecue, and many more. He also has worked with some of the greatest chefs in the world such as Scott Webster, Otto Weibel, Mark Seargent (right hand to Gordon Ramsey), Violet Oon, Reif Othman, Hasan Defour, Samia Ahad, Fernando Arevalo, and Christopher Millar.
All these in his repertoire granted him the opportunity to travel the world doing guest shifts and consultations to share his knowledge and love for the industry. It wasn’t before long when he was offered to be the General Manager of one of Bangkok’s most unique bars, The Iron Fairies; he accepted the role without hesitation.
“My love for Thailand has been there for 12 years, so when I got the offer to manage one of my favorite bars, The Iron Fairies, as GM, I took it. From there, I became Group Beverage Manager for the group and managed also Maggie Choo's, Chow, Nest, and Fat Gutz.”
After a good number of years, Sha left the group to start something where he can freely express himself. He met his now-business partners and started their first projects, Elysium Enterprise and Philtration.
“Elysium Enterprise Co., Ltd is a new hospitality joint venture between 17 partners consisting of mainly The Moh Mee family, Boonthavorn Lifestyle, WVS Interior Design and Production Camp PDC and professionals from across Architecture, fashion design, Interior design, Construction, Furniture, Media, Marketing, TTM (Traditional Thai Medicine), Photography and Food and Beverage Management”, shared Sha. “[On the other hand] Philtration is a speakeasy concept and we wanted to redefine speakeasy and bring all the elements cohesively into one. The venue itself is part of The Moh Mee legacy, one of the founding families of traditional Thai-Chinese medicine. It is a 120-year-old colonial home where the forefathers created their secret family recipes. Our beverage program pays homage to the family by creating cocktails that use herbs, spices, and teas. We try our best to be as sustainable as possible. We also kept some of the original features of the venue as there is so much history to be learned.”
In his course of expertise, Sha believes in the value of sustainability. He practices this by incorporating the movement in the beverage program– making sure to have zero wastage as much as possible. An instance shared to us was that Sha and his team creatively reuse locally-sourced ingredients for their cocktails instead of throwing them away.
Imagine, they managed to come up with Banana Black Tea by dehydrating banana peels until they are able to powderize it. Afterward, they mix it with Black Tea, which they eventually use for a concoction that's highly sustainable and proudly local.
Philtration opened a few months ago and is starting to be received well by the people with its eye-catching, intricate details. Unfortunately, it was also the same time when the COVID-19 pandemic began. It took a huge toll on them, and, of course, to the whole hospitality industry. When asked how he was coping up with the situation, Sha said "We took a step back to help the society by staying closed and practicing social responsibility. The market in Thailand is very different from other countries. Here, the bottled cocktail movement doesn't really move and it goes against our motto of delivering the right experience to our guests. It's about quality and experience always. [So just] to keep ourselves motivated, my partners and I have all gotten involved in our own charity programs to help the less fortunate in Thailand."
The future is still difficult to predict in this unprecedented time, but one thing is certain: this won't be the last we'll hear from Sha. Elysium Enterprise and Philtration have so much in store for them, and we can only wait to see the vibrance that we once had in the Land of Smiles back again.
As we’re slowly adjusting to the new normal, let’s give extra effort to support local businesses, not just for them, but also for the future generation of aspiring entrepreneurs and bartenders. Who knows? You might be a co-founder of multiple businesses years later, too!
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‘TABLE Talks’ is where we sit down with personalities behind masterpieces and have a chat about their passion and inspiration and how they impact the lifestyle community. We aim to recognize the people behind our favorite haunts and appreciate their craft and skills that revolutionize the industry.