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The Blue Pumpkin loves good food

15 Alain Dupuis

The Blue Pumpkin group of restaurants differentiates from others in the world of coffee houses, more as bakery and pastry shops, according to majority owner Alain Dupuis.

The career Belgian food and beverage man, who owns or partly owns an increasing number of restaurants in Cambodia, took time last week to articulate the role of the Blue Pumpkin outlets in the coffee culture of Cambodia, his expansion of other restaurants, and his philosophy of dealing with people.

“At Blue Pumpkins you can have an espresso after your meal and you can have all kinds of café frappe and you can have ice coffee,” Dupuis said. “We have a lot to do with coffee in fact, but still our focus is not like Starbucks, or Coffee Plantation or Costa where coffee is the essence of what they do.  We are more of a bakery and a pastry shop. We are also an ice cream parlor and on top of that we are restaurant with a fairly large menu for a big meal.”

Dupuis said prices at the Blue Pumpkin were moderate, with a baguette for 60 cents.

“In France the same size baguette is one Euro, with the same flour and the same butter.”

He said he likes to see people come to one of the 17 Blue Pumpkin outlets three or four times a week to have breakfast, lunch or dinner.

“We have a very large variety of economic meals, Vietnamese style, Spanish gazpacho, Asian curry and American hamburgers,” he said.

Dupuis said coffee culture in Europe consisted originally of the French café and the English pub or bistro as the functioning places where people could meet.  He sees what’s taking place in Cambodia as more like a continuation of what happened in the United States with Starbucks.

For the larger Cambodian economy, Dupuis thinks the success of the textile manufacturing industry here will be followed by industrial products emerging in the factories of Cambodia.

“Khmer workers are very good.  I have a friend who is managing a factory, and he has 2,000 workers, and they do the suits for Marks and Spencer. The workers have to conduct 120 individual acts.  My friend who has been doing that all
over the world said Cambodian workers are excellent.”

Dupuis describes himself as “extremely bullish” on Cambodia and says he expects other types of manufacturing including in the high tech sector to grow in the coming years.

“I think all the elements are here: talent, manpower, a pro-business government, so you can still do a lot in tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and I could not see that it would not be successful.”

He describes Cambodia’s beach tourism along the southern coast as thus far underdeveloped.

“We are also located in the best part of the world; we have the support of very large economies of China, India, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.”

Dupuis compared Cambodia with Luxembourg in Europe, which 30 years ago was poorer than Belgium, France or Germany.

“Unavoidably Luxembourg became richer.  Cambodia mechanically will become as rich as Thailand and China and Vietnam because of the exchange,” he said.

Dupuis says the big challenge for Cambodia is getting low cost electricity on a steady basis.

“Electricity is too expensive, and each time I open a restaurant, I have to invest in a generator, it doesn’t make sense.”

In addition to his purchase of Hagar Catering, which provides food for factories, he’s also invested in the Emperor of China restaurant and the Dim Sum Emperor at Central Market.  Dupuis and his associates will open another Emperor of China in Siem Reap in July or August and another Dim Sum Emperor at Tuol Kork in December.

“The Emperor of China is a classic Hong Kong Chinese restaurant, serving dim sum at breakfast and lunch, and then serving the full range of Chinese stewed fish, lobster, crab, and shrimp at dinner,” he said.

Coming later this month, Dupuis will open Terrazza, a new full Northern Italian restaurant divided into four parts.“There will be a terrace pizzeria and we will have a deli straight from Italy selling cold cuts, cheese, wine, tomato sauce, olives and anchovies. We will have a large common table for people to taste a glass of wine and taste the cold cuts.”

Dupuis said the new Italian restaurant will have a wine cellar with more than 10,000 bottles from all regions of Italy.

The fourth part at the back of the restaurant will be jazz bar called The Groove, run by the two French musicians Phil and Richie who used to run a music studio at Topaz, according to Dupuis.

He hopes to open the new Italian place shortly after Khmer New Year.“The world is becoming more and more of a village,” he said.

Dupuis recently signed an agreement with the Yoshinoya franchise, Japan’s largest restaurant company.“This is the oldest in the world, with the first shop created in 1889 at the Tokyo Fish Market. They are successful in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia and Singapore.  It doesn’t take much brainpower to think they would be successful in Cambodia.”

Dupuis says he’s interested in restaurants that serve legitimate food and with recipes that are done well.

He appreciates the hard work of the dedicated franchisers such as Yoshinoya, which has recently sent four people from Japan to Cambodia. Dupuis’ company, MEAS Development, will open a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl restaurant at the Siem Reap airport in May, and another at the Phnom Penh airport in July or August.

Dupuis will also be part of a group to bring the Hard Rock Café to Cambodia, opening the first outlet in Siem Reap in November. Right now, they’re looking for a location for a Phnom Penh Hard Rock Café.

“We’ll probably have a Hard Rock Café in Phnom Penh in another year,” he said.

One of the things that has helped Dupuis along is the fact that he started out poor and has been modest all his life.

“People are important, and food is important too. You have to check on many lines to be successful.  Probably the most important line of all and you must to have the enthusiasm of your team to work with you.  They have to feel that the leadership that you provide them is not wrong otherwise they leave.”

Dupuis says he’s trying to build from the quality of people, building on their strengths and letting other help them along to overcome their weaknesses.

“If somebody makes a mistake, I don’t fire them. I discuss the mistake, and we find out what they need to do so you don’t make the same mistake again, and what their other colleague needs to build a stronger team together.”

He said he’s proud that Blue Pumpkin has low staff turnover.

Dupuis and an old friend from California have gotten into a joint venture to grow shrimp in ponds near Sihanoukville.“We started to grow the first shrimp beginning in January and they will mature at the end of this month and with four ponds we should have 20 tons of shrimp,” he said.

He describes the venture as a test to see if they can expand it to more than 40 ponds and really help the shrimp farming business in Cambodia take off.

“If we put 40 ponds into action twice a year, we can produce 400 tons of shrimp a year.  Then Cambodia will become a real exporter,” he said.

Dupuis’ old relationships are starting to pay off, with a new restaurant called California Grill.

“We have decided to open a California restaurant here and it will be called California Grill and it will be centered on seafood, fish and shellfish, but with larger component of meat, beef particularly, imported from the USA,”
Dupuis said.

“The fish, shrimp and tenderloins will be Cambodian products, and the beef, such as sirloin and New York steak, will be American.”

Dupuis said they’ve already identified a location for the California Grill in Siem Reap, in the pedestrian shopping center called King’s Road Angkor.  For Phnom Penh, the California Grill location will likely be on Street 214 opposite Brown’s Café.

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