Lama, I’ve trained in cooking and want to open a restaurant in Thimphu. What do you think? Is there potential? Can I make money from this kind of enterprise? 

Well, if you want to open a restaurant you will first need to decide on who is your target market. A restaurant focusing on fine dining, for example, should be elegantly designed. Furthermore, remember that tourists are taken by their guides to restaurants of the travel company’s choice and so your customer base will primarily be educated locals, not overseas visitors. In this respect, your cuisine should be aimed at Bhutanese tastes.

Fast food is popular among youth and there is definitely a market for such food in Thimphu, but you need to be innovative and, for your personal satisfaction, I suggest that you make meals that are healthy – Sadly, our youth are overwhelmed with junk food and I fear that there will be an epidemic of diabetes and hypertension in the future. In this respect, you can be a pioneer in selling healthy food that is prepared in an innovative way. The music you play and the design of the restaurant is also an important aspect of your marketing. However, you don’t need to spend lakhs on this. Basically, if you have good lighting, a few plants, and some simple but cool furniture, your fast food joint is pretty much complete. Rather than money, you need good design sense. Learn to use Google images for ideas and concepts.

Whatever job you do, the most important point is how you approach the work. If you think only in terms of making money, then you will find that your daily routine is stressful, boring, and a struggle. Of course, you need to make a profit, but job satisfaction, fulfilling a passion, and opening your mind are equally important.

Basically, whatever we do in life it is to be satisfied, right? Nowadays, however, people associate satisfaction with money and status, but this is a really superficial and shallow view of life. Even if money is your primary goal, you should think of it like the peak of a mountain. Now, if you only focus on the peak and rush to get there, the journey will be stressful and there is a high chance that you will stumble and fall. Instead, you should take each step as a goal in itself. In this way, you will enjoy the journey, and it is irrelevant whether you make it to the peak or not, because you will have already achieved your goal – to gain satisfaction.

In this respect, you should try to make each part of your day cool and equally important. As an example, when you prepare the vegetables make sure that they are washed thoroughly, chopped beautifully, and cooked with passion. Finally, when you serve the meal, think of it as an offering to the Buddha or someone you respect and make a wish that whoever eats it be happy and healthy. Now, if you want to be extra cool, you can remind yourself that the vegetables are made of warmth from sunlight, moisture from rain, and nutrition from soil and so in this respect are no more real than other compounded phenomena, such as rainbows or mirages. Finally, at the end of the day, you can dedicate the results of your efforts to the benefit of all beings.  If you act and think in this way, you can transform a normal day into something inspiring and amazing.

To return to your question, I think that there is definitely scope to open a restaurant in Thimphu, but before you start you need to decide on your intended market and not mix up the restaurant interior design and the style of cuisine. If you are aiming at youth, the decor should be cool and contemporary and the food innovative and exciting, but if you are targeting an older more sophisticated customer base, then the decor should be elegant and the cuisine of international standard. Also, once you open the restaurant, aim on finding the magic in mundane activities. Wash the dishes beautifully and chop the vegetables perfectly etc.

I suggest that you employ people who need help to move forward with their lives, such as recovering addicts or youth from broken families. Don’t think of your business as merely a money making machine, but as an enterprise that brings you satisfaction on a deeper and more profound level.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to for any queries


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