Samui Wining & Dining
A Super Stay

Just how is it that Poppies manages to keep its staff from year to year when everywhere else they’re moving around?

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20It’s only natural. They come and they go. They advance. They climb, they move on, up and away. It’s the same everywhere, but here it’s rampant. On Samui, the staff in the hotels and resorts are constantly changing. They come here as youngsters and start at the bottom. But then the learning-curve kicks in, they master the basics, lean to speak more English and find promotion elsewhere. The island is teeming with people moving sideways and up. It’s happening everywhere, all the time. Everywhere, that is, except for Poppies.

Poppies is one of the island’s longest-established ‘boutique’ resorts. That is to say, compact, privately-owned and with service and facilities on a par with the best in the West. Certainly back in the 1990s Samui was strewn with small beach resorts – all featuring wooden huts with leaky thatched roofs! But back in those days the concept of Poppies was still something new. It combined Western standards with family-resort familiarity and offered quality at a reasonable cost.

And that’s also true of the restaurant (of the same name) which has had a line-up of 5-star chefs over the years, namely Jeffrey Lord, Yannick Tirbois, Jan Hollister and Greg Montanez. The menu-concept has always been the same; gourmet-quality International and Thai cuisine. And it has always been successful. This was the hopeful intention way back in the days of architects, blueprints, and construction teams, and it worked.

But something else happened, too. Something that nobody had planned for or even imagined. And it’s another thing that makes Poppies unique. In 1994, staff came to work at this new resort. And many of them never left! A host of those who began when Poppies first opened its doors are still working there today.

If you’re at all familiar with the sometimes brilliantly-polished and formal manners of 5-star hotel staff, then time spent at Poppies might come as a refreshing surprise. All the staff are utterly delightful. You’ll find them outgoing, full of good-humoured charm, responsible and responsive, and all of them very much with their own clear-cut and bouncy personalities. Even the resort’s little-seen Chief Engineer, Khun Praesert, was here at the planning stages and was responsible for designing the Balinese-style teak-clad restaurant, now almost 20 years ago. But it’s here, in the restaurant, that the time-served line-up is most impressive. There are 17 staff bustling about, mostly behind the scenes. And currently the four senior restaurant staff, each the head of his or her own department, have accumulated 55 years of service at Poppies between them.

Arriving first thing in the morning, at 6:00 am, there’s Khun Arom Pimpa – usually known by her nickname of Khun Lek. She’s the Breakfast Manager, although she began here at Poppies as a humble waitress when the resort opened in 1994. She has lived in one of the staff houses nearby for the last 10 years and now feels that it’s her home.

As with all of the staff, there’s no standing on ceremony and her first task is to set the tables and tidy up in general, ready for the morning’s hungry guests. There’s an à la carte menu of all the usual ham, bacon, eggs, cereals, juices and coffee combinations you might expect, plus Thai offerings, too. The session begins at 7:00 am but there are often guests going out on trips or leaving to go home and she’ll make either a special early breakfast or a boxed meal for them.

It’s like one big family here,” she told me cheerfully. “I know all the staff and their children and even when all their birthdays are. It’s the same with the guests. Some of them have been coming here for years and they write to me and send me photos, especially at Christmas. I’m now learning German so I can write back to them. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t working here!

Next to arrive is the Restaurant Manager, Khun Renu Petrat (Khun Nu), together with the Executive Chef, Khun Suwit Suwan (Khun Noi). These two are comparative newcomers and can only claim to have been here for a combined total of 25 years! By the late morning, tables are being set ready for lunch and Khun Noi is hidden away with his pots and pans. He’s studied for more than a decade under four top chefs and is now in sole charge of the International Kitchen.

Khun Nu is in residence until the restaurant closes at 11:00 pm and she’s supervisor, trouble-shooter and hostess combined. She’d previously worked at other 5-star hotels but wouldn’t switch resorts again for all the money in the world. “In those places, the guests were only faces that stayed for a few days and never came back, and I wouldn’t have remembered them even if they did, she reminisced. “I started at Poppies as a simple waitress and now I manage the whole restaurant. And I know every guest by name, and even the names of their pets!

Khun Wantanee Panpleam – nicknamed Khun Wan – is Thai Chef who’s in charge of the separate Thai Kitchen, and she’s actually the only member of the senior restaurant staff who was born and raised on Samui. “I heard about Poppies when it was being built,” she told me, “and I’ve been happy working here from day one. I look forward to seeing the same guests every year – some of them have been coming here since I started in 1994. I’ve even been invited to their homes in England and Australia. I can’t imagine myself working anywhere else.

It’s just not natural! People always move on; it’s what they do! Yet here at Poppies most staff stay. Yes, the pay is good. But some of them have been offered substantial raises to work elsewhere (several 5-star hotels are established here now and there’s a big demand for reliable and competent staff). And yet they remain at Poppies and they remain loyal.

So what is the reason for this, exactly? No-one really knows. But it’s probably something to do with attitude and appreciation. And that’s something that works both ways between the management and the staff. In a word, there really is a family feeling here and all the staff are very much a part of it.

 


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