21 January Canadian helms Iconic Landmark of Design
Jean-Francois Brun, or SO Jeff, as he is known to his friends and colleagues, is a happening guy; he makes things happen and makes sure they continue to happen. He’s in charge of one of Southeast Asia’s trendiest and most sophisticated hotels, the SO/ BANGKOK located right here in the heart of the city’s Central Business District, at the corner of Sathorn and Rama IV.
Everything about SO/ BANGKOK is so chic from the design of its rooms, to the uniforms the staff wears to the events the hotel stages. Chic, chic, chic. It’s one of those places that you go to be seen.
SO Jeff is a Quebec City native but split his childhood between Quebec and Bordeaux in France. He earned a BA in Marketing from the University of Moncton but later went back to school to get a degree in Hospitality and Tourism from the Université du Québec à Montréal, where he also earned a certificate in International Management.
SO Jeff has learned every aspect of the hospitality industry the hard way. He started washing dishes at age 14 as a good old-fashioned steward, moving on up to be a simple cook in the cold kitchen and then onto being a sous-chef. Upon realizing the financial benefit of working at the front of the restaurant in Quebec (tips) he moved there and fell in love with it, starting as a busboy, and progressing up to waiter, maitre’d, assistant manager, and manager. But during this time, he was still focused on a career in marketing; it wasn’t until a course became available at the Université du Québec à Montréal that he seriously started thinking about a career in hospitality.
Ironically, SO Jeff started life as a hotelier with Accor, the company he is with today. After graduation, he was named the F & B Manager for Novotel Manchester West. He also worked for Accor on special projects at their London office. He was then transferred to the Novotel North York, again as F & B Manager. But his father came down with cancer and he decided to return home to help take care for him. He worked on special projects during that time including opening La Cage sports bar in the Bell Centre.
After his father passed, he went back into the hotel industry as a sales manager at the Sheraton Centre Montreal. From there he moved on to be the Group Sales Production Head at Intrawest and the Director of Sales & Marketing at the Grand Lodge Mont-Tremblant.
Then he did the one thing that every restaurateur dreams of doing, on a vacation to Quebec City, and within a 48-hour span, he decided to renovate and buy a restaurant, called the Shack, which he and his partners actually sold for a profit, two years later during Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebration.
SO Jeff then went back into the hotel business taking positions as the Director of Operations at the Manoir Sanit-Savoir, the GM of the Chateau Beauvallon and the General Manager of the Fiddler Lake Resort. Then he became the Regional Director of Operations for the Bellstar Hotels & Resorts, supervising 12 properties stretching from Cranmore, Alberta, to Kicking Horse, British Columbia. His company then told him they wanted him to move back East but life intervened.
He took a short holiday to Vietnam, fell in love with the country and specifically Danang and met his wife-to-be Ai-mhi. So he told his boss he would not be returning to Canada.
It didn’t take him long to find work in Vietnam. He was first named the Director of Operations for the Novotel Danang Premier Han River and then he became the General Manager of the Premier Village Danang, which he helped turn into one of Accor’s top revenue earners in Vietnam (number one on Trip Advisor in the area). The owners wanted him to replicate the success of Premier Village and named him Cluster General Manager of the Premier Village Phu Quoc & Premier Residences Emerald Bay, which he opened within 18 months of each other. Then in January of 2019, Accor asked him to transfer to Bangkok and being a loyal company man he did so.
So what is it about the hotel business that intrigues Jeff after all these years? “The beauty and difficulty of working in the hotel business is, on one hand, the ability to wow or surprise a guest while on the other realizing that it is very easy to disappoint them if a guest’s expectations are not met. Every morning, I do a walkthrough of his hotel, reading the expressions of the guests in his hotel. I want to make sure we are still providing that wow factor.”
And what sets a luxury hotel apart from others? “Preparation and detail,” Jeff says. “Before our clients arrive, we will know all their preferences in terms of meals, bed linen, their favourite colours, etc. Our job is to impress them before they get here. We go out of our way to research information on our guests by talking to their co-workers and personal assistants and even with people at properties where they have stayed in the past.”
The hotel seems to have an affinity for both guests and staff. Many of the SO/ Bangkok’s employees have been with the hotel since it opened in February of 2012. And many of the hotel’s corporate guests return to stay during their leisure time because the property feels like a second home to them.
But not everyone can be a SO/ Bangkok employee, “Be So, but don’t forget to be yourself,” SO Jeff tells the staff. “Be completely natural, don’t try to be someone else, you need to fit in by being yourself.”
SO/ Bangkok takes it to another level when it comes to staging events. It holds an annual SO Fashion Day; the hotel’s uniforms, by the way, are a mix of classic Parisian and traditional Thai. SO Amazing Chefs is an annual culinary extravaganza where nine Michelin chefs are flown in from around the world. The hotel also stages three different art exhibitions a year. It stages a pool party every month that attracts between 800-1,000 people. Once a month, there’s also [email protected], offering a selection of 30 distinctive cheeses from France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, and England. And DRAG ME AT SO on the rooftop is also a big hit.
What makes SO/ BANGKOK unique from other luxury hotels? “You will not find any hotel in Bangkok with a trendier, more playful and edgier design than ours, we keep pushing the envelope,” Jeff says.
The hotel’s themed accommodation is created around the five elements – water, earth, wood, metal, and fire – is an inspiring and innovative masterpiece of collaboration by five of Thailand’s top designers and the world-renowned fashion designer Monsieur Christian Lacroix.
Each guestroom features ZAFIRO in-room entertainment and free Wi-Fi in all areas. All rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, a lavish bathtub and separate rain-shower, a 43” LED TV, minibar and a choice of Lumpini Park or city skyline views.
When it comes to F & B outlets, The Park Society and Hi-SO Rooftop Bar are a “SO-cial dining and wining” rooftop restaurant & bar that serve modern western cuisine. Enjoy your meals while taking in panoramic views and enjoying the weekly themed nights the HI-SO Bar offers. At The Mixo Bar, you will experience a new dimension of molecular cocktails by mixologists while a mix of chill-out tunes sets the mood in a perfect haven for socializing and observing Bangkok life.
The main restaurant, the Red Oven is a futuristic chic dining outlet featuring a wide array of cuisines, reminiscent of market-style food with a contemporary twist, overlooking the Bangkok skyline. And there’s The Water Club offering an outdoor poolside bar with a Solarium area and sun-decks, serving light refreshments and cocktails by day while providing a seductive night ambiance for parties under the stars. Finally, there’s CHOCOLAB, a charming chocolate boutique where you can savour the sensual taste of hand-made chocolate and fresh savories, all in a cozy atmosphere or gift wrapped and ready-to-go.
The So/ Bangkok must be experienced first-hand, so if you are looking for a great luncheon buffet, a night out on the town or a place to get away without leaving town experience it.
You won’t be disappointed, Jeff guarantees it.