As the rollercoaster year of 2020 continues to disrupt lives the world over, it’s nice to know that one can still relax and enjoy a nice drink at a cosy cafe that takes you back to the 1960s.
Cafe 1967 on Street 134 offers classic vibes and decorations that might be unique for youngsters but nostalgic for the older crowds.
The cafe’s street-side sign shows a woman resembling legendary 60s Cambodian singer, Ros Sereysothea, holding up a steaming hot cup of coffee.
It caught the attention of a recent satisfied customer who was cruising by on his trusty Honda C100, a classic bike made in 1964 that looked right at home parked in front of the cafe.
The brown faux stain marks on the vintage red and white chequerboard floor give the cafe character, evoking a sense of the past gone by. The walls are a mix of brick and modernistic tiles imprinted with alternating geometric patterns.
Old rotary telephones and a traditional wooden Khmer chessboard invite patrons to take an old-fashioned selfie or indulge in a game before drinks arrive.
Mean Pitou, the owner of Cafe 1967, started out with a coffee cart in September 2019. Thanks to the rich taste of his coffee, he became successful enough to open the sit-in cafe in May.
The 29 year-old-owner and former Institute of Foreign Languages student says his inspiration for the retro theme of the cafe came from hearing blissful stories of Cambodia in the 1960s.
He was so moved by the stories that he felt an urge to recreate them. He hopes people in his cafe can communicate with each other with the same love and respect people held for each other in the 60s.
“I truly cherish all the traditional and Khmer cultures back in the old days. I have heard lots of good stories from my grandfather since I was little. I also did further research on the subject. I am thrilled to see how people were so respectful and helpful towards one another,” Pitou says.
He says he wanted to deliver that feeling to the young Khmer generation of today. The year 1967 doesn’t hold any special significance for Pitou. He chose to name his business Cafe 1967 because he believes seven is a lucky number.
Before opening the cafe, he ran several businesses without much success. The two that survived are his cafe and his beekeeping business.
Pitou says he and the cafe’s co-founder trained for almost a year before they opened.
“It wasn’t easy for us. We spent a year training and testing coffee every day until we became sick. I’m not a coffee person at all and had to make so much effort to overcome it.”
After an intense year, he now says his cafe offers exclusive flavours which resulted from tinkering with different formulas.
“Everything we use here is organic. [Our] coffee comes from a few different areas in South America. The honey is 100% pure from our own beekeeping business in Pailin and prices are affordable,” says Pitou.
The most popular drinks are the Cafe au Lait, Honey Passion Tea and Honey Coffee.
Cafe au Lait is a French-inspired drink made of coffee and condensed milk. The smooth aftertaste and rich aromas linger in the mouth long after the last sip.
Honey Passion Tea is made with organic ingredients and sweetened naturally with honey. Pitou says the drink improves kidney functions.
The Honey Coffee’s unique taste has gained a small following and Pitou claims it can help regulate blood pressure.
Drinks cost between 5,000 riel ($1.25) to 8,000 riel each.
“Additionally, we have Cambodian sandwiches, called ‘nom pang sach’ in Khmer, which also popular among our customers.”
Pitou says the sandwiches contain minced pork, satay and butter served on a half-baguette.
He estimates his customers are 90 per cent locals and 10 per cent foreigners and says many of them have supported him since his days manning the coffee cart.
The cafe was organised to take advantage of fresh air, and classic songs from the past combined with chatter and laughter to bring the cafe to life.
“We have customers who tell us that when they’re here, they feel like they are dwelling in that classic vibe. One customer even rides his old motorcycle from 1964 to come to our cafe.
“Recently, I hired my grandfather who is already 82 years old as my brand ambassador. He is very supportive and can always be found in the cafe,” Pitou says of Dr Chheng Srea, the dean of the dentistry faculty of science at the University of Health Sciences.
Pitou says two factors make his cafe stand out.
“One is quality without exception. By this I mean the ingredients we use will always remain the same quality. If there are days we are told that the coffee is not so good, we immediately change it. We’re not thinking about how to earn more profit by lessening our ingredients or anything.
“One more thing is this quote that we apply in the cafe: ‘Entering as a guest, going out as a family.’ When they’re in for the first time, they don’t really know me but as we start to talk, we create a bond and make them feel like we are all one family.” Pitou says.
A strong advocate for protecting the environment, Pitou says he is looking for a supplier to find an alternative to plastic cups. He offers a 500 riel discount to any customer who brings their own cup.
“It is not much, but I want to help build a habit in people to not just throw away all the plastic they use. I hope in the future others will also have the same idea to help the environment as well.
“Now I have one customer who always brings their cup to me and I am happy that I can see this kind of habit starting,” Pitou says.
Cafe 1967 is open from 7am to 7pm and is located at No 91E0, Street 134, Mittapheap commune, Prampi Makara district, Phnom Penh. Deliveries are available through Nham24.