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Tell's overture to Khmer foodies

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SIEM REAP

Photo by: Olszewski

Thilo Krueger, owner of Tell Restaurant and co-owner of Picasso bar.

Tell Restaurant and the new bar Picasso have been geared toward both Cambodians and expats.

RESTAURATEUR Thilo Krueger is a hospitality veteran, having survived in business in Cambodia for over a decade through a mixture of foresight and desperate necessity.

In August 1999 Krueger and former business partner Urs Hauser opened Tell Restaurant in Phnom Penh, targeting both the expat and Khmer markets.

In May 2001, Krueger opened a Tell restaurant in Siem Reap, targeting tourists, correctly predicting that the town was about to experience a tourism boom.

But what he incorrectly predicted was that Sivutha Boulevard would become the major tourism strip.

"We were targeting tourists, and we chose the Sivutha Boulevard location, thinking this strip would develop. But nobody knew what was about to happen with Pub Street. It suddenly took off, and we were very much on the outer.

"Business was really bad, so we redefined our clientele."

The push for non-tourist clientele targeted the expat community, but Krueger also begin wooing the "local" market, well-heeled Cambodians.

"We have a small but steady expat clientele, but we also planned to appeal to locals. If you go for a non-tourist market, then your main clientele must be locals. On top of that, the expat market can vanish quickly. When SARS was here, suddenly the expats weren't."

Krueger discovered the secrets to attracting a Cambodian market: parking and air-conditioning are essential, as is privacy, and good steak on the menu also helps.

"Khmer customers are happy to sit in groups in quiet surrounds with closed doors and air-conditioning. And obviously our menu has what the Khmer like. They are big steak eaters: They like good imported steaks and lamb chops."

Last year Krueger amicably ended his partnership in Tell Restaurant Phnom Penh, and last month he went against the grain again by opening a new tapas bar at a time when many people are deferring new business ventures.

The Picasso bar, which Krueger owns in partnership with Max St Menon, a part-owner of the Angkor What bar, is a smart, urban-style bar that purposefully avoids the lower-end tourism market by not offering cheap beers and instead targets a professional expat clientele.

At a time when many Siem Reap bars are struggling, Picasso is an instant hit. Krueger said: "Picasso is proving to be a good business.  It's become an expat bar where hotel managers and the like network, and quite simply, there hasn't been a venue like this in Siem Reap."

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