by Tiffany Teng
At first glance, this hip food cart looks out of place at Nyaungshwe’s new night market, located just a few kilometers north of Inle Lake. Serving up the freshest cocktails in the region, Aung Myo Thu (also known as Peter), this chic addition stands out among other vendors at the market, which opened in January as an attempt to boost tourism.
It all started with a young Peter moving to Nyaungshwe in 2000 to find a job. For a year, he worked on fish farms and sugar cane fields before applying for a job at Inle Lake View in 2002. They hired him as a security guard. However, he had to support his parents back in Taunggyi, and the meager 15,000-kyat monthly salary just wasn’t cutting it.
Tourism in Inle Lake was just picking up, so it was a good time and place to begin his hustle. Hotels needed to send guest lists to the government office, so he made an extra 4,500 kyats per month. While taking night shifts at Inle Lake View, he was a delivery person by day for three different hotels. He didn’t get very much sleep during his first couple of years working, but he did manage to finish his high school exams.
Without money to attend university, he continued to earn his education in the industry by working his way up. In 16 years, he went from security to Resident Manager of Thanakha Inle Hotel. About six years ago, he attended Myanmar Bar Academy, which is run by the Group of Hospitality Professionals in Yangon.
Here, he managed to receive free training in hotel management. His trainer even offered him a place to stay. Peter lived in Yangon for three years, where he learned professional business knowledge that Nyaungshwe was unable to provide. Peter considers himself very lucky for getting his opportunity—because of it, he is able to advise emerging businesses in Nyaungshwe and Kakku today.
Currently, he works as a consultant for local hotels and restaurants. His other job? Creator of Peter Tapas and Grill.
Peter Tapas and Grill is a food cart located at Nyaungshwe’s newly-opened night market. It primarily serves drinks and barbecue at the moment, while Peter experiments with tapas ideas. He has Shan tempura and avocado mousse in mind. He also had me taste one of his potential main dishes: beef bourguignon, to be served on crispy French bread. It was delectable.
Among his many past jobs, his favorite is still that of mixologist. In his cocktails and fruit juices, he focuses on freshness and innovation. The ya pear juice I tried is refreshing and surprisingly sweet with no added sugar.
“I want Myanmar local people to know about cocktails. They only know beer or whisky on ice. When you mix hard liquor with other ingredients, it becomes a sophisticated treat rather than simply drinking in excess.”
Peter chooses his prices accordingly. His cocktails range between 2,000-3,000 kyats, which is on par with the rest of the night market and other casual restaurants in Nyaungshwe. Besides, many locals have begun spending their money on entertainment and leisure. This is a positive improvement that encourages tourist locations to target both foreigners and locals.
I tried his rum sour cocktail, a strong and tasty concoction. And yes, it did taste as fresh as Peter insisted it would.
“I try to make my cocktails different. Fresher, using local ingredients, and catered to my customers’ tastes. I crush a whole lime into the Rum Sour. The whole thing, including the skin.”
The logo is a black-and-white drawn portrait of Peter. He designed it with the intention of expanding from his Nyaungshwe food cart business. For the food cart, he learned how to use software to generated blueprints of the design before working with the builders.
“I do want it to be a franchise. I think this country needs more businesses that are successful enough to build recognizable brands that can be successful in multiple locations. But I’m not ready for that yet.”
He plans to open a permanent restaurant in Nyaungshwe later this year. There is talk of eventually opening expanding to Taunggyi, Bagan and Mandalay. People have already expressed interest in partnering with him. One person even suggested the food cart would be immensely successful in Yangon’s Kandawgyi Park.
I asked Peter where he came up with the idea. What amazed me wasn’t the fact that it was mobile, but that its design and expansion plans were so in tune with overseas trends.
“I get ideas from movies, Facebook, websites… but then I want to infuse it with local culture. I’m thinking a big industrial warehouse space, with a bar painted all different colors and Shan-inspired murals on the walls,” Peter said, describing future dreams for a Taunggyi location.
He will also contribute to the much-needed entertainment scene in Nyaungshwe. There are plans for Peter Tapas and Grill to feature rotating, themed menus such as “cocktail of the night” featuring electronic music, “tapas of the night” with live music, and more.
As for becoming a boss, this 31-year-old says his life hasn’t been easy. But the rough times have prepared him well. He is inspired to educate other Myanmar youth about career development and of course, mixology. Without hustling, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
At a keynote speech he gave to local students, Peter said: “At your age, you only have a gun, but no bullets. You must collect bullets. If you have a hundred, someone else has a thousand. Store them in your warehouse, and only when you’ve collected enough, you can finally shoot.”
Peter Tapas and Grill’s food cart can be found at Nyaungshwe night market on Phaung Daw Side Road from 4pm to 11pm daily.
Photos: Tiffany Teng