Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 7 Questions with Mr. Kong Sopheak

7 Questions with Mr. Kong Sopheak

7 Questions with Mr. Kong Sopheak

03 kong-sophea

Kong Sopheak is the founder of The Snacker, an ice cream shop at the southeast corner of the Russian Market. His homemade, dairy-free ice cream includes exotic flavours such as taro root and durian.  The 31-year-old doesn’t just tantalise tastebuds – he also works as a communications officer for international NGO World Vision Cambodia, photographing, filming and interviewing some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable. With Cambodia in the throes of its scorching hot season, Julius Thiemann found the perfect respite and discovered a newfound addiction for icy, sweet Cambodian treats.

What makes a good ice cream?

It has to be made fresh from local, seasonal fruits – you have to be able to trust the quality. Cambodian ice cream should always be made from an old, traditional recipe; it’s a bit different [from Western styles of ice cream]. We use coconut milk rather than dairy products. Locals prefer this – there is a limit to how much dairy we can take. I eat lots of my ice cream everyday, and I can never get enough. We don’t add artificial sweeteners and preservatives, which I think is important.

Is it just you that makes the ice cream?

No, I have five young women who work in the shop – I met them through my work at World Vision. I’ve heard so many stories and seen so many examples of the abuse of girls and women, I decided I wanted to help directly. These particular girls had no other life or perspectives other than working long hours in garment factories or abroad, where they were treated with no dignity – one was working in Malaysia for seven years. I told her family it wasn’t safe and that she needed to stop. All five girls live with my wife and I. I taught them how to make the fresh ice cream every morning starting at 6:30am. They all went to high school, but what we want now is to get them into university. Two want to go to medical school to become doctors. We’re like a big family, and until I can help [the girls attend university], we won’t have our own children. But I hope that we will be ready next year.

What have you learned through your job at World Vision?

Through this job, I have travelled extensively across Cambodia, to some of the country’s poorest provinces and villages. The poverty and lack of opportunity, particularly for girls, broke my heart. My question was how I could help the people and give them what they need.

How did you come up with the idea of a social business?

I am an ice cream lover, and many Cambodians are too. I combined my idea of helping the girls with a business idea that I have always thought would work. One day, in 2002 while at university I drove down a main road in Phnom Penh. It was blocked with barriers and a huge crowd had gathered around something I couldn’t see – I thought a road accident had happened. I got off my bike to see what was going on. It was an old man selling ice cream! I put faith in the crowd and waited 30 minutes for an ice cream. It was incredibly good. I became addicted.

So did you ask the old man to divulge his ice cream recipes to you?

I began to buy his ice cream on a daily basis, but one day in 2006, the old man was gone. I went to his house to ask him what was wrong and he said that he was too old to sell ice cream in the streets now, but he asked if I’d like to learn how to make it. I jumped at the chance. He taught me about the ingredients and gave me the recipes for every flavour for free. He said as I had bought his ice cream for four years, he now considered me a friend. But I gave him some money anyway.

Where is the old man now?

I have no idea . . . I cannot find him because he sold his house in Phnom Penh and moved back to his home province in Kampong Thom. I don’t know his name either because I always called him Om [uncle]. But when I have time, I am sure I will find him. He will be proud of his student, what the shop is now and what he started.

How are you going to continue making people’s lives better with ice cream?

We opened a franchise of The Snacker in Kampot that is not for our profit but for the people that run it. They sell as much ice cream as the branch in Phnom Penh – up to 25 kilograms a day. I want to help people and therefore eventually stop working. I want to be close to the people and see what they really need.


  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,