Photo by: PETER OLSZEWSKI
Churning out the cookies at Madam Sachiko’s Siem Reap bake house factory.
Finally she appears. She’s tall (170cm), svelte and attractive. She’s the cookie mogul of Angkor Wat, as she was described by the second biggest selling newspaper in Japan, The Asahi Shimbun, in 2008.
She’s exuding wellness and radiating success because, as Madam Sachiko, she’s a brand name that’s made big dough out of the pastry business, mainly selling cute little cookies in the shape of Angkor Wat that are fastidiously baked in a super-hygienic Siem Reap factory.
In real time she’s 37-year-old Sachiko Kojima. She’s a former Japanese language teacher made good, and I’ve been pursuing her for almost two years trying to get an interview, but finally resigned to settling for a mere sighting.
And this time around a sighting is exactly what I get, a quick appearance for a photo opportunity. Earlier last week she had declined an interview saying, via email, “I would like to receive your interview, but I am sorry I am not good at speaking English. If possible, would you send some questions about the press release to me by email?”
But, surprisingly, she agreed to a photo so I turned up, camera in hand, figuring I could pin her down for an interview while taking a pic. But it was not to be. Her presence is imposing and she’s superbly efficient, quickly posing and radiating for a few photos and then, before I could get a question in, she suggested further photos at her cookie baking factory on the following Monday at 10:30 am. Excusing herself, she disappeared back into her office.
But she didn’t reappear the following Monday for her appointment, begging off due to a “fever” that’s stricken her, according to her assistant Sony.
Sachiko Kojima is about as low profile as it can get in Cambodian expatriate circles, and that’s the way she likes it. But in Japan she’s very much high profile.
Her Siem Reap retail outlet and café on the road to Angkor Wat carries a display of newspaper and magazine articles about her, but they are all in Japanese, except for a lengthy English-language article in The Asahi Shimbun, from the weekend edition of the paper of May 17-18, 2008.
Back then I contacted her for an interview, only to be promptly rebuffed.
Madam Sachiko, as I like to call her, informed me that she was only interested in publicity in Japan, not Cambodia, thank you very much. End of story.
So it was with great surprise last week that an actual English-language press release emanated from the Madam Sachiko headquarters.
The release revealed that three Madam Sachiko products produced by Khmer Angkor Foods Co, Ltd have won apparently coveted Monde Selection 2010 Awards. The Trois Continents Coffee Set, comprising a selection of coffees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, has won a gold medal. Silver medals have been won by the famous Angkor Cookies and, from a new product range, Banana Chips Pepper (“These Banana Chips defy the common wisdom that banana chips are sweet!!”) also picked up a gong.
But to glean any further information about the wonderful world of Sachiko Kojima, I must rely on English language items in the Japanese press.
The 2008 Asahi Shimbun article reveals that in 2000, after her studies at Yokohama City University, Sachiko landed a job as a tour guide in Siem Reap and taught Japanese.
She also invested a sizable wad of money to open a coffee shop in Siem Reap, but claimed that staff stole her equipment, wiping her out.
She returned to Japan to teach to earn more money and in September 2003 returned to Cambodia with $5000, cookie moulds, packaging ideas and the aim to start a new business creating souvenir snacks.
In April 2004 she set up Khmer Angkor Foods Co, Ltd, selling coffee, lotus tea and Angkor-shaped cookies under the brand name Madam Sachiko.
In May 2008 she told The Ashahi Shimbun, “In 2004 we were earning $1000 a month. Yesterday – in just one day – we earned $13,000. We get 400 customers a day on average – on a good day it’s 800. We’ve started exporting to Japan. I started with two employees, now I have 60.”
By studying the May 2010 edition of the bilingual bimonthly local Japanese magazine NyoNyum, I discover that Madam Sachiko is learning how to make her own soybean milk because she’s on a new health food kick. She says that for the 10 years she’s lived in Cambodia she’s always eaten out, but has now changed her eating habits and is ingesting more macrobiotic food such as soybeans and brown rice.
This is inspired by her relatively new business venture, the opening of the Trois Continents Café in Phnom Penh with its new healthy soup lunch menu.
It includes soup, rice or bread with various grains, organically grown salad and a “healthy dessert” of a soybean milk pudding, “mainly targeted at women who care about their health”.
She also recently launched a range of exotically flavoured chips wholesaled through outlets such as Lucky Supermarkets. The range includes the aforementioned award winning Banana Chips Pepper.
All this and more from the industrious Madam Sachiko who promises to inform about other new projects via email – soon.
Meanwhile, Madam Sachiko remains elusive, confined to her office at the rear of the building, dreaming up yet more products.