IF you ask Frenchman Thibault K. Bidi what brought him to Malaysia, his answer would be “opportunity”.
It was, after all, a series of opportunities that landed him a job with Paris-based coffee roasters Cafes Richard, and a chance meeting with Resorts World Genting’s representatives that resulted in Cafes Richard opening a cafe – their very first – in Genting SkyAvenue.
Now, he’s living the high life as the brand “ambassador”, or consultant, for Cafes Richard. But it wasn’t always smooth-sailing – he had a difficult start when he found himself having to make his own way in life at age 15.
Everything in life boils down to opportunity.
“My family couldn’t support me,” he said with a shrug. To make ends meet, he got a job as a dishwasher, working 16 hours a day, six days a week for half the usual pay, because child labour is illegal in France.
It may sound like a terrible situation, but K. Bidi was happy – he had free meals at the restaurant he was working at, and his boss had helped him secure accommodation.
“At 15, you want to be a man,” he said with a grin. “You don’t really think about the hard work, you just want to be independent.”
That job was his first step towards a lifelong passion for the F&B industry, and an unshakeable belief that good fortune comes to those who seize opportunities.
He then moved on to Michelin-starred restaurant Côté Cour, in his hometown of Aix-en-Provence, where he started off as an assistant waiter.
“I wanted to be a waiter, because they get better pay and tips!” he said. “But all the other waiters were in their 30s or 40s, and I was considered too young to become one.”
He appealed to his boss, and she granted his request, on one condition: that he memorised the ingredients in every dish on their menu.
“She thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” he recalled with a grin. But he managed to memorise everything and became the youngest waiter there.
It was this work ethic and desire to progress that has made him who he is today, but his move from fine dining to the world of coffee was another completely random chance.
He had decided to explore new grounds, and was working in a tiny coffee shop in Australia when a freak accident at work – a glass windowpane fell on the barista’s head – changed everything.
“She had to go to the hospital, and my boss asked me to close the shop,” he said. “So I did; I closed everything. But after a few hours of waiting around, I decided to try making the coffee myself.”
He reopened the shop and did such brisk business that his boss promoted him to barista.
K. Bidi has since gone from strength to strength in the coffee business, almost like he was born to it. And maybe he was.
I think coffee is in my blood. One of my ancestors was arrested for piracy and sentenced to work in a coffee plantation. Maybe that’s why I love coffee so much!
As brand ambassador of Cafes Richards, he works to ensure everything, from the coffee to the service, is up to Parisian standards.
It can be a challenge, he admitted. “There is no one-size-fits-all coffee that will suit everybody,” he said.
He first had to note the differences in Malaysian and French consumers, the biggest being the different ways of enjoying coffee.
“In France, having coffee is a big deal,” he said, as he sipped his espresso. “We have to sit down and enjoy it. If you don’t have time to sit down, you don’t drink coffee at all!”
The Malaysian penchant of grabbing a coffee “to go” baffled him. However, he’s determined to make things work without sacrificing the French standards of service.
Nothing is impossible if you work hard.
Based on his life journey so far, it’s easy to believe him. After all, who would’ve thought a 15-year-old dishwasher would one day soar so high?