From shady drayangs to promising hotel business

Yangkhil restaurant owner Kelsang Wangmo

LHAKPA TSHERING | Thimphu

After about two-year closure of entertainment venues since the onset of the pandemic, 60 drayangs had to cease operation of their business following the government’s decision to permanently close all drayangs in the country.

However, with supporting measures and compensation from the government, some owners have quickly switched their businesses to bars, hotels and restaurants, and other forms of entertainment, among others.

Among them is 55-year-old, Kelsang Wangmo from Bumthang, who formerly operated Phendeling drayang at Chamkhar town. She now runs the Yangkhil restaurant located near Etho Metho building in Thimphu town.

It took almost a week and measures of encouragement and determination for her to set up her tourist-standard restaurant. It has a big dining room in the new towering building and she pays a monthly rent of Nu 130,000 for the space.

Her new restaurant, which started its services in the second week of April, is attracting more customers than she had expected. “The initial few days were difficult without customers,” she said, adding that now more people are coming as it is becoming more familiar.

In about 20 days of active business, she earned about Nu 60,000 which she said was operating at a loss. This unexpected shortfall in income may leave her unable to cover monthly rent and other expenditures.

While the future of her restaurant is uncertain, she is hopeful for a better chance of surviving in the coming months. It provides the most famous Bhutanese food including authentic Bumthap dish available at a cheaper price. “Many customers suggest the price is cheap. But I believe in providing at a reasonable price,” she added.

This can be seen as the restaurant giving food at cheaper that is about 30 percent less than what is being charged in other restaurants. “Our customers give good feedback as they leave while many returns regularly. We also take the order,” she said.

Kelsang Wangmo employed three youths helped by her male friend who has experience in working with tourist hotels.

She received monetary compensation of Nu 1.5-million from the government from which she paid about Nu 600,000 in rent for the drayang hall during the period of pandemic closure.

“We were charged only half of the rent thanks to the owner. I still pay the rent as our party hall is associated with the drayang,” she continued, adding that they plan to convert the hall into a karaoke venue.

Her business which has been hit hard by the outbreak of the coronavirus led her to take a bridge loan of about Nu 500,000 and additional loans of Nu 900,000 from the Bhutan Development Bank (BDBL).

When she ran a drayang, her monthly income was Nu 40,000 to Nu 50,000 excluding rentals and other associated expenditures. “Unlike in Thimphu and other towns, Bumthang does not have many customers, but we earned enough to keep our life moving,” she added.

“Although we are operating the restaurant at a loss, our children always encourage us to continue as we have just started the business,” she added. “We are hopeful as their moral support keeps us upbeat.”

Meanwhile, the government supported the drayang owners who have retained their drayang until the issuance of the executive order with Nu 1.5-million and those who have surrendered their rented space in 2020 with Nu 1-million.