We first noticed Natasha Capol while having an evening drink at Mr. Brooks, a hidden bar that serves up stylish concoctions in a quiet nook of Bangsar Shopping Center. Natasha, a master mixologist and brand/area manager for a number of household names such as Mr. Brook’s and Tate under The BIG Group, turned out to be much more than meets the eye. Her story is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Here, she shares with us snippets from her time dancing Salsa in Spain, to overcoming a difficult part of her life following an accident by reminding herself on ‘The Theory of Awesomeness’, to her present career in the Food & Beverage industry.
Please give us a little introduction of yourself?
I grew up in Malaysia before moving abroad to Europe at a very young age. I learned dance in Spain before pursuing a degree in acting in Singapore, followed by working with a design company in Switzerland. I currently live in Malaysia now.
Natasha in the Achille Dress from Sher By Twenty3.
That’s quite a life! Having lived in so many locations, was it difficult moving from one place to another?
Well, I moved to Spain without knowing any Spanish. At that time, hardly anyone in Spain spoke English. I had no relatives in Spain and I think I had about 100 Euros in my pocket. My parents asked me, “Why did you want to go to Spain?” I said, “I don’t know? I just feel like it!” I was at a very young age when I decided to move abroad alone. I remember when I first arrived; I took a train into the center of Madrid. They have these telephone booths with little tags on it that have a number you can call to rent a room or whatever. Armed with a little translation book in my hand, I called the first number. The first one didn’t speak English nor understood my ‘try-hard’ Spanish, however, on the next call, there was this lady who spoke a little bit of English. She ended up taking me in and I was fine. I managed to get a job as a waitress as well.
Were you not afraid as you were alone and moving to a country where you didn’t know the language?
I guess at that age, I was fearless, I felt like I could conquer the world. Growing up in Malaysia, you are constantly faced with so many challenges. You come out not as a normal, ordinary person, but one that’s toughened. I had a tough time fitting into school despite achieving good results. It was difficult for me to get accepted into college but eventually I was accepted with a partial scholarship as well. When you go through things like that, you have a different focus, energy and drive. I live by the mantra of “accomplish or do not begin”. You just go out there and do whatever you want to do.
You mentioned you danced in Spain; tell us a little about that?
My passion has always been dance so I started going to Salsa clubs to dance the night away. One guy invited me to join his Salsa group. I was like “sure, why not?”. They were mostly Colombians and Venezuelans. Old ladies taught us how to dance; they tap on your chest so you learn to feel the beat that way. The men would lead you around the dance floor. When I used to dance in competitions, nothing was choreographed, you just danced to whatever music they were playing. Dance is about living in the moment and having the freedom to move and the freedom of expression.
Natasha in the Achille Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
So why did you decide to move back home after living abroad for so many years?
While I was in Switzerland, I was in a really bad car accident that left me hospitalized for a long time. On top of that, someone close to me had passed away from that accident. I went back to Spain for another 5 years to get away from that situation. I went back into dancing after my broken bones recovered and, having regained my joy for life, I decided to move back home to be closer to my family.
How did you manage to recover emotionally from that period of pain?
My family deals with situations like these by just getting over it, without time to grieve or mourn. I grieved alone during those 8 months in the hospital. You just tend to deal with the consequences as they come and there were many. I didn’t let anyone talk to me even the psychologists and therapists. I had so much rage and anger inside me for a very long time but after a while you realize that hey, I am still alive.
What kept you going?
It required a lot of self-endurance for the first couple of months because it was such a difficult period in my life. For a lot of it, I tried to stay as positive as I could. I have this theory called the “Theory of Awesomeness”. It’s people trying to be the best they can (thus being awesome) and that applies to me as well. It’s the same as always trying to be the best version of myself. When you go through things like this, you realize how strong the human mind and body is. You then realize how strong someone can be. Also, I used to do a lot of charity work and see kids go through a whole lot worse. Finding motivation and inspiration from people who have nothing but manage to survive due to the world working this or that way, pulls me through.
Natasha in the Savannah Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
So why did you decide to path a career in the Food & Beverage industry?
The reason I’m in F&B right now working for The BIG Group is that it’s the only thing I know other than acting and dancing. I was working in bars as a dishwasher when I was 12 years old. I’ve climbed that ladder to get to where I am. I’ve been a dishwasher, a waitress, a bartender, and I’ve worked my way up. I didn’t get to where I am because daddy gave it all to me. I worked at the age of 12 to buy toothpaste for my family. That’s my upbringing.
So how long have you been with the BIG Group?
I’ve been with them for two years. I’m in charge of Mr. Brook’s, Tate, and Barlai to name a few. I’m in charge of many brands under The BIG Group.
Is it difficult to manage so many brands as well as your staff at the same time?
I’ve realized that people don’t need to be managed. It’s the process that needs to be managed. I have this thing I call “Brules”, which is short for “bullshit rules”. If you give me a rule, I’m going to break it. There are so many rules and regulations for everything, especially in Malaysia. Giving my staff a say and an opportunity to take ownership at what they do is a better option, as long as they don’t step over boundaries and work according to their responsibilities. You tend to realize that many people won’t overstep their boundaries when they’re given freedom.
However there are a few that do, and it breaks my heart, as I treat them like my family. Someone really crossed a line once so I asked him to pack his bags because I gave him a chance that was his key to an opportunity, but he let me down.
Do you usually give second chances to people?
They all end up asking for a second chance, whether I give it or not is a different question. It’s never final but it’s the way they approach the situation, the severity of it, as well as if they’re apologetic. I gave someone a second chance once and that person turned out to be pretty amazing. Everyone makes mistakes; I made so many mistakes myself.
Natasha in the Savannah Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
What is the best advice that you could possibly give your staff, or anyone at all?
Many people tend to set realistic goals. I ask myself, “...Why?”. I think people should set unrealistic goals because that’s what you should be trying to achieve, like the saying, “aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. However, I do feel that there is so much Malaysian talent and stories to tell but there’s a lack of opportunity.
Have you ever thought of going back into acting?
I do want to use the skills I learned from acting but maybe to host documentaries or travel shows. I’ve acted in a few shows in Singapore but I didn’t really enjoy it. I would love to host documentaries on controversial topics and things people aren’t aware of, like child prostitution, human trafficking, and things like that. My ultimate goal is to help children.
Any other hidden talents we should know about?
I did Kung Fu for 10 years in Penang, and I was the only non-Chinese there, and I can also speak Hokkien!
Seems like you are an avid traveller, what’s the next destination on your bucket list?
If I ever go to Cuba I’ll never come back, so that’s for last. South America is also last because I’ll never want to leave. Maybe somewhere close to home since I’ve travelled all of Europe; somewhere like Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam. I guess places like Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, places like those. Anywhere that inspires the mind.