What happens when your core values no longer work due to the pandemic? Here’s how The Commons is turning things around 

Set the Tables
“I think this is the time when we all have to stick together, to unite. Uncertainty means having the ability to adapt as quickly as we can.” – co-founder Vicharee Vichit-Vadakan

theCOMMONS has been lauded as Bangkok’s trendiest gathering grounds, bringing together in one common space some of the city’s top artisan producers and restaurateurs. Sibling duo Vicharee and Varatt  Vichit-Vadakan’s vision for theCOMMONS was to build a wholesome community within an active outdoor space surrounded by lush greenery – a first-of-its-kind type of development on a mission to champion a community of producers who genuinely care for and take pride in what they do. 

In March, the very core value that their concept was built on -building a wholesome community – was severely impacted as they were forced to cease operations, just like all other businesses across Thailand due to Covid-19. “There’s hardly any traffic now in Bangkok. It is tough on everyone.” Here, we talk to co-founder and Managing Director, Vicharee Vichit-Vadakan, as she shares on how her team at theCOMMONS is pivoting towards new directions. 

Key Takeaways 

  1. How theCOMMONS is being affected by Covid-19, and the changes Vicharee and her team had to make to translate its core business value of “building a wholesome community” into a whole new thing   
  2. Why it’s important during this period to adopt the mantra “whatever you do, do it with kindness and compassion” into your business 
  3. In the 1 month since its doors shuttered, theCOMMONS launched the Employee Relief Fund for its employees, started in-house delivery stations for its vendors, and Home Space Market for the community 
  4. Why Vicharee believes that in order to survive these unprecedented times, “It’s going to be about how to stay positive, how to be kind, and how to get through this together as a community.”

You are in the unique position of playing the role of landlord of theCOMMONSas well as an F&B operator with Roast, Roots, Ocken, Daily Roast. What challenges are you facing within your dual roles? 

theCOMMONS is all about bringing people together. Having to shut down has left us feeling handicapped – like we have lost our bearings. It is almost as if your purpose, the very thing you love doing is being questioned. But as landlord, we knew that we had to do our part in keeping the community safe. theCOMMONS Thong Lor has been closed since 18th March. A few days later, we closed our Sala Daeng space when the authorities made an official announcement for all operators to close their premises. It’s a struggle because our vendors are not big chains. Majority of them are small local operators, so it is very challenging for them to not be able to operate. 

As we’re also operators, we really understand how difficult it is. theCOMMONS is actually absorbing the majority of the financial burden ourselves. We did not charge any rent for March. For April, we only require tenants who offered deliveries to absorb part of the operating expenses. We continued to not charge rent to any of our tenants that cannot operate as per government orders. For May, we are charging a minimal rent with 70% discount.  When we open our doors again on Monday, 1st June, we will continue to give rental discounts (approximately ~40%) for the month. 

As landlords, we are definitely feeling the impact and we know everyone is hurting as well.  We’re trying to our best to be fair to all parties and make sure everyone can get through this together with kindness and understanding during this period. 

That is indeed very kind. Can you share with us the initiatives theCOMMONS launched to help the community? 

Launch of Delivery and Takeaway stations 

With immediate effect, we have teams of people set up to take orders, stations set up in front of theCOMMONS to facilitate all of the orders. We try to support each other and get through this together. We’d get their feedback regularly and we try to adapt as we go along.

We also partnered with a third party delivery company and negotiated a bulk rate for the vendors. theCOMMONS is still working to launch a consolidated online delivery platform. Watch this space! 

Launch of virtual positive initiatives 

However, we are still aiming for the platform to provide positive, useful, wholesome content. theCOMMONS is all about bringing people together. 

If we can’t welcome people into our physical space right now, we can still bring the community together virtually. 


The team has been amazing in sharing content on our platforms to our followers like video clips of how to make matcha at home, tips to staying well at home, their favourite books or playlists. 

International Jazz day is usually one of our biggest events because we showcase local musicians. Since we can’t do that anymore, what we’ve done is a live stream of two or three local musicians playing together. In this manner, our customers can still celebrate International Jazz Day with us from their homes. 

Since our vendor, Little Pea, which is a kid’s activity space can’t have activities anymore, they’ve created a five-day activity kit, where each day there’s new activities for kids to do. They have also pre-recorded some storytime and exercise videos available in the kit that they’ve been sending to customers’ homes. We know how challenging it is for parents with kids at home. Little Pea is trying to help ease that by sending these kits to families and to keep the kids engaged.

Set the Tables
“theCOMMONS is all about bringing people together. Having to shut down has left us feeling handicapped – like we have lost our bearings. It is almost as if your purpose, the very thing you love doing is being questioned. If we can’t welcome people into our physical space right now, we can still bring the community together virtually.” – co-founder Vicharee Vichit-Vadakan. This image was taken pre-pandemic.

Launch of Home Space Market  

Launched on 12th May, HomeSpace Market is an initiative started by our holding company, Kinnest Group. We’re trying to fill in a void and offer products from our own brands, such as Roast, Roots, Ocken, Little Pea in ways that you can enjoy at home. For example, cooking kits. The ingredients will be prepared in the box and with very simple instructions that you can follow to make your meal at home: 

Our team identified an opportunity during this pandemic and proceed effectively to launch Home Space Market. There’s so much we still need to learn and adapt, but it’s quite an exciting new area for us! We plan to expand to more categories, not just food & drinks and also a platform for other like-minded brands and our vendors at theCOMMONS in the next phase.

It’s about doing what we always love to do, and sharing it in a new way with customers. 

theCOMMONS is all about connecting people and bringing people together in this space. What do you think will be the new normal? And how is your team preparing for it? 

That’s a great question. I think one of the most important things for us is to be agile and try to adapt as we go. In terms of this space, we definitely will take precautions. We’re planning on removing a lot of the tables so that there’s social distancing within the space both inside and outside of the market area. 

We have big communal tables because that’s all about what theCOMMONS is. Unfortunately, we can’t utilize those anymore.  We’ll have clear sectioning with graphics that tell people where they should sit and to make sure that everyone keeps a distance

We’ll have protocols like checking their temperature, everyone will be asked to wear a mask if they come in. So, we’ll do all the things that are required to keep the community safe. But in addition to that, we’ll still have to have a lot of content that will be provided online. For workshops, we used to have a lot of different classes. I think what we’ll need to do in the future is we might need to keep them at a minimal number and  live stream it, or have it up on our blog so that other customers can also enjoy the content without having to be there physically. We’ll adapt accordingly. 

How about your restaurant businesses? 

The same sort of preparations in changing the interior of the store by taking out tables. We’ll probably end up taking out 30- to 50% of seating so that there’s sufficient room between each of the tables.

For all the staff, we’re training them to have strict protocols in terms of cleanliness, hygiene, and even little details like how you set the table. To protect customers, we will only bring out the utensil and plates as the customer order.  

Set the Tables
“Whatever you do in this period, do it with kindness and compassion.” – Vicharee Vichit-Vandakan. theCOMMONS, Sala Daeng

Now that your seating capacity is drastically reduced, how do you find new avenues of revenue?

It is tough for everyone. Everyone is probably facing the same thing. Our revenue is now only at 10- to 15% of what it used to be. It’s a huge impact. 

Furthermore, everyone is delivering and offering takeaways. There’s also a lot more competition in the market with fewer customers.  People are choosing to cook more at home. Everyone is experiencing this and back to your question – even when we can welcome customers for dine-in, I think revenue will probably be at best 50% of where it used to be. In general, restaurant margins are thin, to begin with. These are the measures that restaurants can take up: 

  1. Reducing menu offering to keep cost lean and stocks at minimal  
  2. Keep costs down in other ways 
  3. Letting some of your workforce go, which is heartbreaking and a painful decision 
  4. Initiatives that can help your employees. For us, this would be the launch of Employee Relief Fund (more below) 

We are hoping that this will not be the new normal forever! 

Tell us more about your Employee Relief Fund 

The aim is to help our employees that are the most affected. When we had to close down, we knew that as a group we had to preserve our cash flow to stay afloat. For the remaining employees, we tried to help them by creating this Employee Relief Fund, which we contribute money per employee per month for at least the next three months. What we’ve done is basically donate dry goods like rice, canned food, essential goods and everyone will receive it up to twice a month, alternating between theCOMMONS Thong Lor and Sala Daeng. 

We’ve also opened it up to other local businesses who are interested to participate. If you have a small business and your employees are also affected, you can choose to register them into the program. You can enrol into the fund with a minimal contribution like 300 THB per employee per month. We’ve been raising money through our platform and received donations from bigger companies. Just a few weeks ago, we got a big donation from Unilever who donated items like laundry detergent and personal care items. We were so excited because this will be in addition to the essential foods that are donated. And then there’s another company called URC Thailand that produces cookies and cakes which donated. It might not be essential items but I think it’s a nice treat for the affected staff. Even some customers have donated lunch boxes. It is not huge, but all the little efforts that we see from friends, customers, and companies is really heartwarming.

I’ve had my staff volunteer to take pay cuts or to work without pay. I’ve had people who don’t have a lot and still give me boxes of masks where they say, I want to donate these to my fellow employees. The people who have the least are sometimes the most generous. 

People are showing kindness and compassion during this time and it can come from the most unexpected places. 

It’s the little things that have made me feel like it’s worth fighting. And we have to get through this for the sake of our staff and our community. 

What are your learnings and observations from this pandemic? 

I think this is the time when we all have to stick together, to unite. Uncertainty means having the ability to adapt as quickly as we can. I think that’s important. I’ve seen my vendor, Little Pea pivot so quickly in trying to get their activities available in new formats and to share that with customers at home. 

This is going to sound so cheesy, but nothing is permanent, right? One day your place is full of customers and the next day, nothing at all. It just like shook us to the core and that reminded us that you have to be able to adapt. Nothing is permanent

Whatever you do in this period, do it with kindness and compassion.

Your marketing strategies are always top-notch. Is there any sharing in terms of how to elevate your brands now? 

I think the strategy now is to engage customers and still be in touch with them by providing positive content. It’s just about being honest.

 And also reminding customers that products from our tenants are still available. We still want customers to think about them and order from them. There’s going to be content sharing from each of our vendors. Our matcha tenant did a 1-minute video about how to make matcha at home. And we’re trying to do that with all our tenants so that they can also share their craft. It’s not going to be all about selling, it’s going to be about how to stay positive, how to be kind and how to get through this together as a community. 

Images credit to theCOMMONS. Interview by Their Burhan. Edited by Lim Aileen. 

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