Artistry of the entrepreneur

Suladda May

– artist, entrepreneur, chef – likes to stay busy and clearly relishes a challenge.

As a young girl who dreamed of being a dancer, May eventually ceded to her father’s wishes and studied food and nutrition in her native Thailand before moving to Philadelphia to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition. “My father did not want the starving artist’s lifestyle for me,” she recalls.

However, no sooner had she completed her degree, she enrolled in a fine art course at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. “The nutrition course was for my father. The art course was for me,” she says.

Perhaps this attitude has continued to inform her lifestyle and business choices as she now owns two successful businesses, but continues to paint in her spare time. As she explains, it is the ideal combination: She knows she can make a living running a business, whereas as an artist she may not. So she spends her days attending to work, and her evenings are dedicated to painting.

Without the pressure to turn her art into a financially viable occupation, she is able to enjoy it that much more.

Not that it is an easy task to pack this much into a day. “It may be two in the morning when I finish painting, as I do it after I have finished work,” she says. “Every minute of my day is filled, but I try to get eight hours’ sleep a night. If I am painting, though, I may just get five hours.”

A lifetime of practice

She has had a lifetime of practice at managing a very busy schedule. While studying for her master’s degree, she one day stumbled upon a French pastry shop. Captivated by the intricate, artistic creations she saw, she decided then and there that she wanted to become a pastry chef. Already having had a good grounding in food and cooking, she took on training as a pastry chef alongside her nutrition course.

Later, while studying art, she also worked as a pastry chef. It was as a result of this that she arrived in Grand Cayman in 1989. Her former employer in Philadelphia, celebrity chef “Tell” Erhardt, had arrived on island a year earlier to run Grand Old House and, unable to find a good pastry chef here, invited May to come.

Ever the multi-tasker, even though she initially planned to stay for only a year, she pursued her artistic activities while working as a chef at the restaurant and sold her paintings to tourists who dined there.

Some years later opportunity knocked and she was able to realise her ambition of opening a Thai restaurant on the island. Initially working as the chef herself, she has since trained her staff to take care of the food preparation. Once the business was taking care of itself, she moved onto another business venture.

Artistry

Her beauty salon and spa originated from an idea she had that she would like to hire someone as her personal Thai masseur. “I knew that one person would get bored just working for me for a couple of hours a day, so I thought about offering their services to my friends as well.” May also minored in health and beauty, so the idea grew to incorporate the hair, nail and spa services, and in 2009 A Touch of Thai opened.

Alongside her businesses, May continues to paint, and has exhibited in various galleries on island. Her paintings include landscapes and seascapes, portraits, abstracts and more. Her styles are equally varied with simple watercolours, bold abstracts, impressionistic and cubist renditions. “I keep changing styles, that way I never get bored,” she says. Although she has no plans for another exhibition for the time being, she displays her recent works on the walls of her restaurant, Thai Orchid.

She pursues additional short courses whenever she can and in future would like to take a step back from her active role in business to dedicate more time to travelling. Not that she will ever be found resting on her laurels. “Oh no. I am always busy. It keeps me young – I don’t have time to think about getting older!” she laughs.

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