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Young entrepreneur to breathe new life into old Honolulu Cafe

Young entrepreneur to breathe new life into old Honolulu Cafe


Photo by: Shannon Dunlap

Selantra proprietor Khoy Dara in Siem Reap. 

THE Honolulu Cafe on Wat Bo Road is about to be reborn as the Selantra Restaurant, a Khmer-language twist on the Italian word cilantro, otherwise known as coriander.

The revamped Selantra is twice the size of the former Honolulu Cafe, has been trendily redesigned and will double as art gallery.

The restaurant will hold a launch party on Monday, and the debut art exhibition will feature the charcoal works of Phnom Penh's Em Riem.

Later, other emerging Khmer artists will be featured.

The proprietor,  24-year-old Khoy Dara, has also revamped the menu and teamed with experienced chef Chamroeun,  who has worked at several Siem Reap hotels, including the Day Inn Angkor Resort.

The duo has collaborated to design signature salads and original sauces and, according to Khoy Dara, a highlight of the new menu is the special pepper sauce served up with sirloin steaks.

Khoy Dara himself is one of the success stories of Siem Reap's tourism sector.

When he was nine years old, Khoy Dara was taken in by the Sunrise Angkor Children's Village orphanage and, as a teenager, he worked as a waiter in hotels and became the assistant restaurant manager at the Cafe de la Paix.

He's still working in this position, but in 2007 he doubled up his workload by setting up the Honolulu Cafe and has now reinvested capital to reopen as the Selantra.

He admits that he is taking a big risk and that he worries about the economic crisis and the sharp drop in tourist numbers.

"Everything is more money.  A really good coffee machine can be US$8,000," he said.

But Khoy Dara has ample motivation to succeed - at 24 he is the head of a large household.

He adopted four orphans, now aged seven to14, from the Cambodian-Thai border when he was little more than a child himself.

"No one to take care of them, no one to give money, no one to give food - so I bring them to live with me."

Now he also has a wife and two very young biological children,  which, together with his two jobs, makes for a very busy life.

Yet he has no complaints.  "It is almost 24 hours a day," he said, "but I love my business."


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