The owner of Phnom Penh’s Gym Bar is branching out with a new venture based on his own particular culinary expertise.
Having eaten a lot of pies over the years, I’ve got a good feel for what they should be like.
HOMEMADE pastry will prove the recipe for success in a crowded catering market for the capital’s first specialist pie shop, its Australian owner says.
It has been two weeks since Randal Laurence, 46, owner of Phnom Penh Gym Bar, opened the shutters of the Pelican Food Company on Street 278 in Boeung Keng Kang.
Having given up his home to move above the new specialist bakery, nestled in the tourist hub surrounding the Golden Gate Hotel, he said he has invested under US$10,000 in fulfilling what some could call the Australian dream – owning both a pie store and a sports bar.
“The pies were doing quite well in Gym Bar, and when I saw this place for rent in November, I thought it’d be the ideal place for a pie shop,” he said Monday.
One month later, Randal Laurence finds himself spending two hours each morning making 20 pies for sale at the new venture – rolling out reams of pastry and filling cases with concoctions ranging from beef and gravy to Thai chicken.
To some, launching a small start-up when the competition includes imported frozen pies from Australian giants Vill’s and Four’N Twenty, sold in stores throughout the capital, plus crusted snacks from other local bars, would seem a challenge.
But the former resident of East Timor and Adelaide believes his new venture can succeed by offering something different, in the form of fresh ingredients and a bigger, 230-gram pie – dwarfing Villi’s 190-gram offering.
“I saw this as a niche in the market, as I handmake every pie. Having eaten a lot of pies over the years, I’ve got a good feel for what they should be
like,” he said.
To taste the pies for yourself, visit Pelican Food Company on Street 278 between 10am and 5:30pm daily. Pie lovers can collect the US$3 pies as takeaway orders, but delivery is not available. Call 023 214 540 for more information.
“The crust is the secret for a good pie, and we tend to have more gravy and moisture.
Though his ambitions are modest – he hopes to branch out into trade sales to bars, create new flavours, strengthen the Pelican pie brand, employ a few more staff members and perhaps venture into other food sales along the line – he has sage advice for other would-be culinary entrepreneurs.
“The key to any small business is to create as low overheads as you can, be the best at what you are doing and build it up from there,”he said.
“But you have to be prepared to have it not work.
“I’m hoping this one will take off, but I’m not planning to roll out hundreds of pies a day.”
He hopes that with a good location and strong passing trade, a Thai pie warmer and the Pelican brand, the shop should become a success.
But he’s not content with catering only to fellow Australians wanting a taste of home.
“I don’t want this to be perceived as an Australian thing. We are looking to develop some Khmer flavours,” Laurence said.
His marketing strategy is a simple one, involving a mix of strategic advertising and the tried and tested trick of free samples and deals to Phnom Penh residents.
Though he admits that assessing the size of the potential pie market is impossible, he reckons the store has had “positive feedback so far”.