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Perseverance Pays off for Thailand's Sandwich Man

Ten years after the Asian stock market plunge left him $30 million in debt, a 57-year-old Thai entrepreneur has become a symbol of optimism and perseverance in his country. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

The transition from millionaire stockbroker to street vendor has not been an easy one for Sirivat Voravetvuthikun. The 57-year old entrepreneur made a fortune in stocks but when the Asian stock market collapsed in 1997, so did his investments, leaving Voravetvuthikun $30.4 million in debt.

"So my life was totally changed from a luxurious lifestyle to just a commoner lifestyle."

The U.S.-educated stockbroker says it was a difficult time for his family. While the creditors sued, Voravetvuthikun swallowed his pride and began selling sandwiches in the streets of Bangkok. On his first day, he earned $14. His wife, Vilailuk, says she often felt disheartened. "But I realized if we gave up, nobody would help us. No matter what, the two of us have to help each other. No matter how disheartened we felt, we have to fight."

Ten years later, Voravetvuthikun is "Sirivat the sandwich man," and he is once again a success story. His business, which includes two coffee shops and a sushi catering service, employs 14 people. And he has plans to expand the business. "Today as you can see, I can smile. Although I was formerly rich, I was a bankrupt person. Today, I run a very, very small business. And I still sell sandwiches on the streets of Bangkok, although I'm going to have shops now one after the other. I feel happy."

Sirivat Sandwich has become a well-known brand in Bangkok -- the symbol of one man's refusal to succumb to fate. Voravetvuthikun says the company logo, which he designed, says it all. It features a dollar sign (Thai Bhat currency) and the IMF insignia to remind him of the 1997 crisis and the start of his new career as the sandwich man of Thailand.