An Expat Dad Spills All
Trevor MacKenzie is an expat dad based in Bangkok. His career with COCA & Mango Tree restaurants (yup, one of our faves for Thai food and awesome Dubai fountain views) sees him coming to our desert city lots throughout the year so we caught up with Trevor to learn more about his foodie background, his life in Thailand and his tips for parents who have to travel with work.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? Your family? What do you do?
I head the global expansion of COCA & Mango Tree restaurants around the world, in all aspects, like us restauranteurs do! I have an array of experiences from good old fashion picking rocks working on the farm, cowboying to marketing/sales in real estate and other businesses. However the one passion I was never able to shake was restaurants. From the time I got in until now, I can say it’s my true passion; and doing what I love while getting to spread it around the world is even better.
I ended up in Thailand by chance – more because my air ticket had a stopover here on my way to a one year sabbatical in Australia – the never ending summer trip! At that point who would have ever thought I would have been living in Thailand for more than 12 years now, but I saw an opportunity to help make and take a Thai cuisine brand around the world.
My inspiration? PF Changs. After living in Australia and seeing so many Thai restaurants but not one was a brand I remembered, my days of surfing in the USA and seeing this PF Changs brand pop up and thought if this American white guy can do Chinese food why can’t I be the Canadian white guy doing Thai food? I was also in the right place at the right time and because of my belief and passion I was given a wonderful opportunity to work with a family restaurant group that started in 1957. I am sure the now Chairman would laugh at my inexperience of Asian food at the time but even last week while eating Dim sum we discussed how much my palate and understanding of Asian foods has change and drastically improved. I never believe I know it all and always thirst to know the history or the origins of the cuisine and being in Asia it has that history. Now add in a bit of Western systemisation and Moxie and now you have our brands that are in 14 countries and growing.
My wife is another destiny story whom when I first met I almost bowled over my friends and said she’s mine. Well, as luck would have it she stood me up on our first date – at the pier for 2 hours! It wasn’t until 2.5 years later that she again appeared in my life and since that time we have been together ever since like puppy love – Teerak (darling in Thai) and T-Mac (my nickname from when rap first came out!). We have two wonderful children Maximillian (7) and Tristan (3.5), who both go to trilingual school – Thai, Mandarin and English. I have a wonderful family who smiles everyday. It’s the reason I married my wife was because of her smile and the first thing my kids do every morning is smile. What better way to wake up – I love it!
We hear that Mango Tree might have some exciting news and new locations in the UAE. Please tell us more.
I like to keep suspense… actually as we are in the process of negotiating some things at the moment we don’t like to reveal to disrupt anything. However I can confidentially say we will be back, maybe not in our exact form as before but new and exciting next evolution of our Brand.
You clearly travel a lot with work. How do you make quality family time?
Last year, I travelled 280 days yet I was in more family photos than previous years. I think one of the keys was my Board of Directors brought it to my attention that my kids are only young once. So I was given budgets to hire more staff and I personally took more time off. I would land and have them pick me up at the airport and we would go straight to the beach or on some adventure. My calls would be re-directed to my assistant. I am very thankful for my team and Board as they have allowed me to work hard but play hard as well.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I would say two things: one is you are extremely motivated to perform and secondly, you have no choice but to perform so you can spend time with them. The biggest change I notice is that I can be supper stressed out at work and as soon as I walk in the door and my two boys come running and hug me, I literally melt and the things I thought were stressful disappear immediately. We have a game called superman hug, so I have no choice but to concentrate all my attention their way for safety purposes as they fly off the couch into my arms!
I also had it reflected to me by a millionaire ex-boss when I was very young who was just visiting Thailand that he noticed I had found this amazing work-life balance. It’s been something that he has been trying to achieve for 25 years. I said, “I don’t know if I have 100% mastered it yet but I was getting much better at it and I didn’t live with the regrets that many business people do of having to sacrifice their family for work.” I believe and have always believed if you can do your best to find the balance the balance will also find you and offer you the rewards.
Does your family ever travel to Dubai with you?
No, they have not yet, we have put it on hold until our youngest who is now 3 gets another year older, so that when they go we can really enjoy the Atlantis Water Park because even I am excited. I also want to take them into the desert camping for a few days. That said, it looks like we may be flying Emirates to Canada for a visit later this year so their dream may come to fruiiont a little faster than Dad’s planning – and if it does we will make the most of it.
What do you love about Dubai?
I call Dubai the “lost City of Atlantis” rising out of the sand; Sheihk Mohammed is a great visionary and inspiration to me that when you believe in something you can make it come true. I love that Dubai is ever evolving and changing and that the whole city itself exudes possibility!
What’s your kids’ favourite dish on Mango Tree’s menu?
My kids love our homemade Isarn sausages and their favourite if Grapow Moo. My oldest now rebels seafood so he passes on the Lobster Phad Thai – oh, and they love our Chairmans chicken wings; they say they are better than mommy’s.
Favourite activities with the family?
Beach and swimming. In Thailand we always need to cool down and we have a great rooftop pool on our building for barbecues and swimming days. They love Centara Grand Mirage resort because it has waterslides and a water play zone all in one resort so we go there whenever we can and the kids have become well known as the staff have watched them grow up there.
Favourite family-friendly restaurants in Dubai?
I would say Carluccios because my wife and I can eat something else and our kids are always crazy for pizza – in Bangkok we have a neighbourhood family restaurant much the same so when they all come I can see us eating there.
Your favourite and current food trends? What do you predict is next?
Well, I predicted the Peruvian trend but now to be honest I haven’t spotted the next new trend. What I do see is more people doing farm to fresh/organic. Oh, Vegetarian food; I was just in Toronto above all places and saw more 100% vegetarian restaurants than I have ever seen. People are caring about what they eat and what they put in their bodies. They are learning what processed foods do to our system. They are tired of getting fat or feeling lack of energy. This is why Asian cuisines have a great potential; they have less protein per serving and include lots of vegetables and herbs. Thai food, for example, is already farm to fresh. We only buy fresh that day and cook the same day; we don’t eat leftovers or processed foods that often. People are getting interested in where it came from and are more into supporting the smaller guy who puts that extra effort into what he does vs the corporation that mass produces something via GMO, machines and overall lack of love!
Any tips for dads who travel and are away from the family a lot?
Utilise Skype, LINE, or whatever program so you can touch base with your kids whenever you can. It makes a big difference and helps the guilt that can creep in. You don’t want that monkey on your back otherwise it creates more unwanted stress and the best thing you can do for your family is not be stressed out! I would also say be positive. Don’t focus on “oh Daddy has to go away again”, but put some positive twist to it or some reward when you come back, such as the beach vacation, a Daddy day (we do the video arcade, what young boy doesn’t love the arcade!). Now we are doing jitjitsu and these trampoline parks – and make sure you do it! Our family is extremely positive minded and supportive, including my little 3 year old who sheds a tear when I depart knows this is what gives us the life we have. I have also taken them to 6 countries now so they get to understand what I look at when I go to different countries.
Do your kids expect masses of gifts from everywhere you go?
They never expect it but they do know that if I do long trips to Europe or USA/Canada I will usually bring some things back. Mostly I bring back food from overseas for them to try, for example, earlier this year I was in Warsaw and the client took me to the local market where I bought polish sausage, perogies, kosher pickles, Bulgarian feta cheese, sauerkraut and even pickled herring (which they didn’t like so much). The sausage was the biggest hit and was gone in a week!