A successful Khmer-owned coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Café Soleil is located down Street 278, toward Monivong from Wat Lanka on the left hand side.
There, owner Penny Ung, has been in business for the last two and a half years. When she and her husband were looking for a house to rent, they decided why not get one where they could live upstairs and she could run a business downstairs.
At first, Penny Ung wanted to sell ice cream mixed with coffee, but after a few months of operation, she began adding vegetarian items to the menu.
“We decided to make this different from others. People have many kinds of choices including Japanese, Italian and we thought: ‘OK, why don’t we open a vegetarian restaurant and be the first one in BKK?”
She describes her business as an all-day coffee shop and vegetarian restaurant. Opening at 7am, breakfast is popular and inexpensive with a breakfast sandwich of cheese, egg, tomato cucumber and salad, including a coffee or tea, for $2.75. Also available are croissants, raisin and vanilla Danishes.
For dessert, she has fresh mango with sticky rice for just $1.50.
Lunch is the most popular meal of the day, attracting regular, loyal customers, about 80 per cent of whom are foreigners and 20 per cent Cambodians, according to Ung.
Popular meals include vegetable green curry with green noodle and tofu for $2.75 and pumpkin curry with coconut milk and rice for $2.90.
On the Khmer food menu, there’s Kampot rice noodle salad with peanuts in coconut milk, for $2.50.
More Western-style menu items include green salad with feta cheese and olives and baguette for $3.50, hummus with toasted bread or baguette for $3.50, as well as spaghetti with tomato sauce and mozerella cheese for $2.75. There’s also the very popular Pumpkin soup and baguette for $2.75 and grilled eggplant with stir fried vegetables, also for $2.75, as well as stir fried mango and cashew nuts for $3.50.
“Right now we are getting more and more customers and mostly they come for the vegetarian food,” she said.
For drinks she has fresh juices, including a blended banana and passion fruit for $2.50, which includes fresh bananas, passionfruit, yogurt and milk. There are ice cream shakes on the menu along with iced lemongrass tea with limey and honey for $1.75, for example.
Penny Ung and her husband have one daughter, Changrea, which means moon, aged 1.5 years. She enjoys being a mother and running the vegetarian coffee shop. She had previously worked at Hotel InterContinental as a receptionist, in the telecommunications industry and for an NGO, but she’s happy now to run Café Soleil.
“Vegetarian food makes the people more healthy and I think the vegetarian lifestyle is getting more popular, and a lot of foreigners are starting to think about vegetarian foods as well,” she said. “You can see that the price of our coffee is less expensive than the big shops and the quality is good.”
She offers hot latte for $1.50 and iced latte for $1.75, and is open until 10 pm.