Ever since she was a child, eating out was one of life’s great pleasures for 29-year-old Elite Sethavrath, co-owner of Boat Noodles Restaurant in Phnom Penh.
Trying different recipes at new restaurants is part of Sethavrath’s daily routine and, as a result, she has developed innovative ideas regarding food that she employs at Boat Noodles Restaurant’s three branches across the capital. More recently, Sethavrath has become widely recognised as a judge in the first season of MasterChef Khmer – a competitive cooking show broadcast on local television.
Hor Kimsay of The Post talked to Sethavrath about her journey as a female entrepreneur in the restaurant business, as well as her experiences as a judge on a national cooking show.
What inspired you to start your business journey in the restaurant sector?
It’s been my dream job ever since I was young. I love eating out, going to different restaurants and trying different food recipes.
When I went to study in the US I continued my hobby of regularly eating out and sampling different food. As a result, I became familiar with a diverse range of dishes and recipes, and I wanted to put them to good use by opening my own restaurant.
When was your restaurant first established and what is your role in the operation?
Boat Noodles Restaurant was established in 2001 by my older sister and cousin, at the time I was still a student. When I graduated from university in the US in 2011 and came back to Cambodia, I saw the business’ potential and decided to get involved. After a short time, I became co-owner of the restaurant.
I‘m responsible for the restaurant’s marketing and branding, while my sister focuses on internal management. We now have three branches – one near Phsar Kabko, another at Camko City, and a third at Sorya Shopping Mall food court.
How is the business doing?
Business and revenue are good. Despite high rental costs at our locations we continue to make annual profits. Of course, we don’t always meet our revenue targets, but that’s just a fact of business.
You were a judge on the first ever season of MasterChef Khmer. How did you get that opportunity?
It was surprising really. I’m just a simple restaurant owner who loves to eat out. I’ve never worked in front of a camera or in television at all, so at first I rejected the idea when the MasterChef team approached me. But they persisted, telling me that I should give it a try and if I didn’t enjoy it I could always stop.
After the test, the production team said I did very well, considering I had no experience in the broadcast industry. This gave me the confidence to change my mind and give it a try.
What did you study and how has it benefited your business?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the California State Polytechnic University, in Pomona. It provided me with a lot of advantages in addition to receiving a good education.
Now, I am more independent, self-reliant and daring enough to handle many challenges on my own.
Do you think the restaurant business has a lot of potential in Cambodia?
Yes, the restaurant business in Cambodia has much potential. The average income of Cambodians is increasing and eating habits are changing. More people are willing to spend money on eating out these days, and the demand for good food will keep rising.
But we need to strengthen our quality of service and design new concepts to meet the customer demands, which is forever evolving and changing over time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.