BY MOLLY BRUSH
As a young woman, Waew Chantar had no thoughts of ever starting her own business. In fact, when she was 18 and leaving home to study hairdressing in Bangkok, her family fully expected her to return to her hometown of Surat Thani in southern Thailand when her training was complete.
Things turned out a little differently. Since leaving Surat Thani nearly 30 years ago, Chantar, now a Bloomington resident, has launched successful businesses on two continents. Her first foray into entrepreneurship came when she opened a hair salon in Bangkok.
“I love to make people look good and feel good,” she says.
As a young business owner, Chantar worked long hours in her salon. It was her desire for a good meal at the end of a hard day that inspired her to start her next business.
“I love to eat,” she says. “After a long day, I wanted to go someplace where I could order what I wanted. And I thought, ‘Why don’t I open one? Why don’t I have my own restaurant?’”
Seventeen years ago, Chantar moved from Bangkok to Bloomington with her then-husband, who was studying at Indiana University. She worked as a stylist in local salons until 2005, when she opened Élan Uptown Hair Salon in Fountain Square Mall with business partners Nelda Colglazier and Betty Stotler.
Then, just as she did in Thailand, Chantar followed her success as a salon owner by turning her entrepreneurial talents to food. In 2013, she married Chitakorn Setmark, a chef and fellow native of Thailand, and together they opened Bangkok Thai Cuisine at 2920 E. Covenanter Drive. The following year, their son, Pete, was born.
Now, Chantar divides her time between styling hair at the salon, handling the business affairs of the restaurant, and caring for 3-year-old Pete. Though running two businesses while raising a young child doesn’t leave much time for relaxation, when she does get a few hours to herself, she enjoys working in her garden.
“I love the nature here,” she says of Bloomington.
Currently, she is focused on maintaining a high level of quality at Élan Hair Salon and Bangkok Thai Cuisine, but she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of starting another business someday.
“If some opportunity opens, you never know,” she says.