Written by David Creighton
It´s one of those coincidences that seem to happen in Prague more than anywhere else.
I was talking to former colleagues in a restaurant and we ended up talking about Thai eateries in Prague, when one journalist mentioned Tiger Tiger, one such restaurant in Vinohrady. Later on, the conversation got round to the fact that I´m Scottish and the intelligibility (or otherwise) of Scottish accents. The next day I met Scott Weir, a fellow Scot and the owner of – surprise, surprise – Tiger Tiger. In the light of the conversation with my former colleagues it was refreshing for once not to have to worry about my accent being understood.
We met in Tiger Tiger on one of those grey, cold, energy-sapping days that leave you wondering whether you´ll ever see sunshine again. Entering the restaurant was therefore a welcome boost. Inside, subtle lighting, giving the whole space a cosy feel, enhanced the warm yellow paintwork of the walls. Colour and brightness were just what were needed on a dull January afternoon in Prague.
Oriental features decorated the restaurant, and as I looked at them I was struck by the cultural contrast – a Thai restaurant in Prague, jointly run by a Scot. Like so many foreigners who came to Prague in the early 90s in the aftermath of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Scott Weir liked Prague so much that he wanted to stay here long-term. He opened Tiger Tiger in 2002.
The story of the restaurant happened in several stages. Like many expats who have come to Prague, Weir´s career background is quite different from what he is doing now. He studied computer science and economics at Stirling University in Scotland, and after graduating he worked for Financial Objects Plc, a British company providing banking software services. Weir was sent by the firm to places as far apart as New York, Jakarta and Warsaw. In 1992 he was posted by the firm to Prague, where he looked after ČSOB bank´s computer systems.
Meanwhile, Weir had heard other expats talking about the lack of Thai restaurants. Although establishments representing various countries were appearing all the time in Prague, Thai food was still missing he said. “That´s how I came up with the idea of a Thai restaurant,” he added.
He had also decided he didn´t want to leave the Czech Republic. “I liked it in Prague and wanted to stay,” said Weir, explaining the next step of his career in the Czech Republic was when he set up his own consultancy business in 1993 to tide him over.
It was some years though before he actually launched Tiger Tiger, with a fellow Briton who was also in the IT business. When the restaurant was ready to be opened Weir and his business partner hit a snag that caused a seven-month delay. He explained it was due to the seemingly minor issue of the restaurant sign above the front door. “We told our builder we wanted it in wood. He said it was no problem, but there was a long delay caused because it was a wooden sign.” The Fire Department had to approve it, but the need for consent could have avoided if it had been made from a different material. “The builder could have advised us about this and we wouldn´t have had to go through all that,” said Weir, adding that the builder could have easily pointed alternative options and advice. He also explained (without wishing to sound like a foreigner telling Czechs how to do things) that he felt that maybe there was a tendency of Czechs to let a client make all the decisions but not point any potential problems or better ways of doing things because it wasn´t their job.
Even though the process involved bureaucracy, Weir said that he felt the Czech Republic wasn´t an excessively bureaucratic country. “People complain that there´s lots of paperwork, but I would say it´s not any different here from anywhere else,” he argued, adding that those who find it a very bureaucratic country probably won´t have experienced lots of paperwork at home and so find it more shocking here. “The levels of bureaucracy in Britain or the US can be just as bad,” he said.
By now rival restaurants were already doing business, but Weir said he was undaunted by this problem because he said that Tiger Tiger was able to offer something different. “It may sound a bit rude, but I always tell people that we have Thai people cooking here,” he said, noting the tendency of many Czech-owned restaurants not to employ chefs of the country whose cuisine is being served in them. Weir has always employed Thai cooks, and the current two chefs have been here for the last 18 months.
Beside the Thai chefs, Weir and his business partner tend to employ other foreigners, and feels that they have naturally have a “more international slant” than locals who haven´t lived abroad. He also explained that in his opinion many Czechs, mainly those over 25, still find it hard to come to terms with the idea of a foreigner setting up a company in the Czech Republic, and advised people coming from abroad to do business bear this in mind.
On the other hand, even though English is becoming the language of business more and more in Prague, Weir argued when dealing in legal and business matters with Czechs it shows them respect to conduct business in their language. “You should have your own professional translator and deal with things in the language of the people you´re doing business with,” he advised, adding you shouldn´t “try to muddle through with your bit of Czech or their bit of English.”
Weir also said that planning ahead was important, and on the perennial problem of bribery he stated that usually people bribe officials when they need things to be speeded up. His advice was simply to think about schedules in advance and incorporate them into the project. “If you build the proper planning into your project then you should never hand money over to people to get things done,” he added.
Despite the usual problems of doing business, Weir is pleased with the success of the restaurant, which is in the mid-range price category. “It´s doing quite well,” he said. Czechs, who are generally not noted for their love of spicy food, make up 50% of the clientele, and a special lunchtime deal has been popular with the locals as well as expats. “We do a special offer of soup and a main course for CZK 100,” explained Weir, saying that the lunchtime meals are less fiery to win the confidence of local diners, who it´s hoped will come back in the evening.
Weir and his business partner intend don´t intend to stop at one restaurant, and they have plans to open a smaller version of Tiger Tiger in the city centre, which would serve fast food.
For more information about Tiger Tiger, visit their Expats.cz business directory listing: