Umberto’s Journey to Ao Nang
Krabi is proud to be called the home of thousands of expats who have lived here for any period of time. Some come for a mont, stop on their route to other destinations, others come for 6 months or a year or longer. Some maybe teach English or work as a dive master. Then there are those that have no intent of going home at all and begin to call Krabi their home.
Now lets like to take a step back in time to another world, to another time, another setting, another world; 2001. Before youtube and smart phones, a times when things were a little simpler and personal, a time when hand written letters were’t completely obsolete. 2001, the world trade centres had just been attacked and the American war in the middle easy was just getting underway. The Euro had just been put into circulation a few years before, travel was still not as accessible. Airbnb wasn’t even an idea yet, airlines and hotels were still working out many bugs and problems with new websites such as booking.com and expedia.com. Both of which had just been launched a few years earlier. to put it in other words, it was a more difficult time to travel, it required more planning and thought. It wasn’t as easy as pulling out your phone and in 10 minutes you had round trip ticket from Bangkok to Amsterdam.
The process of going to Thailand wasn’t such as simple as it is nowadays. The internet wasn’t so saturated with detailed blogs and forums about what visa you had to get and how to get it. There was a certain process for travel and it certainly wasn’t as accessibly as it is today.
In a time of uncertainty of where one was going, what you might find there, how you could get there is where our story begins.
Leaving Italy for a new pace of life
Umberto Barbieri left Italy in search of adventure and opportunity to a growing place in the world, Asia. His first stop left him in Singapore to work as The executive chef in a highly regarded Singaporean restaurant. After working in Singapore for a year Umberto being so close to Thailand and reading books and hearing stories from friends about Thailand, he decided to visit this mystical place and see what magic Thailand held. Arriving in Ao Nang he was (as most of us are) overwhelmed with the beauty and dramatic landscape which has made Krabi so famous. Arriving in Ao Nang 17 years ago, was a world of difference to what it is today. The town was only a tiny village with little to offer, so he made his way down to the pier and early booked a ticket to the famous Koh Phi Phi. As fate would have it though that day a storm rolled in and blocked the boat from leaving so feeling stranded in Ao nang Umberto decided to try out the local Italian cuisine. Arriving at the only restaurant he could find called Lavinia advertising “real Italian chef” after the pizza arrived at the table and feeling the hot breeze in the air mixed with the scents of home, Umberto knew he had to ask about the sign in the window. So like any eager backpacker would do he asked to talk with the owner and jokingly asked the owner “I am a chef from Italy, do you need any help here”. Little did he know that sentence would change his life entirely. The owner took only a second to respond, saying quickly replied “YES”. They formed an understanding and a contract for their working relationship and the next day Umberto was the chef of Lavinia.
After 2 years of working for Lavinia and learning more about Ao Nang and Krabi, Umberto decided it was time to try to work for himself, so he opened his own Italian restaurant ‘Lo Spuntino’. A small restaurant of only 8 tabes the restaurant which was simple enough, yet gave Umberto the ability to learn really what it would take to operator an Italian restaurant in Thailand, where to source products, how to deal with staff, menu options available in the area and much more. The restaurant was opened in August 2004 and had a successful launching as it was the only Italian restaurant with an actual Italian chef. But as fate would have it later that year just as the high season was getting under way The Indian Ocean was rocked by the infamous Boxer day Tsunami. This tsunami which originated from Indonesia ripped through the entire Western coast of Thailand, killing thousands and causing millions of dollars in property damage. The country was his hard and so were it’s many entrepreneurs as the global tourist market coming to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia basically died out in a matter of months after the incident. Torn by the situation of no patrons visiting Lo Spuntino Umberto was unsure to stay in Ao nang, or to move to another town to set up a new restaurant.
Luckily a frequent customer and friend Soony who loved dining at Umberto’s restaurant who also owned a Thai restaurant named ‘Sala Bua’ offered that they team up and work together creating a fusion restaurant. and so Sala Bua & Lo Spuntino was born, the first fusion cuisine restaurant in Ao nang came to life.
Soon after their opening the pair of owners had the great opportunity to move their growing restaurant to one of the coveted restaurant locations on the Ao nang seafood street. This brought more foot traffic to their delicious and eventful cuisine growing the word of mouth popularity and online reviews. Sala Bua & Lo Spuntino was a great restaurant, very popular among expats in the town as well as tourists, the team of staff was loyal and dedicated to their craft, everything was perfect but the owners both wanted a change. The restaurant had been running successfully for 7 years and both owners wanted to try a new venture in life. Soony pursued a career in villa management taking care of a number of his own private luxury pool villas, and Umberto was off at his new restaurant; The Red Devil, located just a short 3 kilometres from Ao nang beach. The Red Devil was of course featuring traditional Italian cooking but had a more intimate and cosy feel to it, Red Devil was highly regarded trip advisor and among the local community as Umberto had already built a name for himself among locals in Krabi.
2 yeas after opening The Red Devil a new opportunity was presented to Umberto, to open a new restaurant in a more coveted and busier area of Ao Nang. Selling The Red Devil, Umberto was now onto his next adventure.
Opening Umberto’s Italian Cuisine
Opening Umberto’s Italian Cuisine 3 years ago Umberto is proud to call this restaurant his home and happy to know that over half of his current staff are the same people who worked with him at the original Sala Bua and Lo Spuntino. Its an accomplishment to have the same people care and support you after all this time. Currently Umberto’s Italian Cuisine serves the best Italian food Krabi has to offer and his current cliental come for reservations from all over Krabi. Recently channel 7 news from Bangkok features his restaurant in a feature on great restaurants in Thailand which was nationally televised. The local community of Krabi know where to get the best Italian food in town and online his restaurant receives daily 5 star reviews on trip advisor, but don’t take our word for it, go taste the stunning dishes yourself at Umberto’s Italian Cuisine.
Ao Nang and Thailand have opened their doors to thousands of expatriates traveling here from all around the globe to work, grow and evolve in many ways. It’s a massive accomplishment for anyone willing to travel to this sacred place and able to start a business or endeavour on their own.
Since Umberto opened his first restaurant some 20 years ago he has never looked back, no matter if he has a bad month, his head chef quits in the middle of a busy night, a string of bad reviews online or issues with rent, marketing and where he will get the money to pay his staff. He has never let their hindrances get in his way. There has always been only the way through and although this story is similar to others in the world, one message connects all stories of success, never give up. Because when you do you’re only admitting defeat instead of continuing to fight on for your name. Umberto’s Italian Cuisine is open daily from 11am – 11pm and is located on Klong Heang Road in the ground floor of The Alisea Boutique Hotel.
You can contact Umberto’s Italian Cuisine for reservations: