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Sophal the pizza-maker turns his hand to the law

Sophal the pizza-maker turns his hand to the law

For the last four years Chim Sophal, 39, appears to have been fully absorbed in the

business of making pizzas on the Phnom Penh riverfront. But all this time his mind

has been focused on legal issues.

Unknown to most of his customers, Sophal has been quietly studying law at the Royal

University of Law and Economics and this year he passed his law degree. He can now

put after his name: Bachelor of Law.

He continues to make pizzas in the charcoal-fired brick oven he built himself in

1994. And he is now thinking about what legal work he can do and whether he might

try studying for a master's degree in land law.

When he was young he wanted to be a soldier like his father, but because his father

was killed in the Pol Pot period he changed his mind. "I do not like guns now

because during the Pol Pot regime I saw comrades use guns to kill a lot of innocent

people."

Sophal was a child laborer in the countryside, working with other children digging

creeks and building dikes. He survived by working hard and today he has a wife and

two children.

Sophal was taught in three weeks to make pizza by Herb Simeone, an American chef

at PP Pizza during the UNTAC period in 1992. "If I hadn't got help from him,

I do not know what poor level I would have sunk to," he said.

Sophal came from Takeo province, where he was born, in 1986 to work for a military

footwear factory in Phnom Penh. "I met Herb by chance when I was a moto taxi

driver. Herb asked me whether I wanted to be a cook."

Sophal said he accepted the invitation because he was reminded of the Khmer saying:

"In the kitchen there is always food to eat, so it's a good place to work."

A year after Sophal became head chef, PP Pizza went bankrupt, so Sophal and four

of his friends put together capital of $11,300, and opened their restaurant on Sisowath

Quay in 1993, honoring Herb by naming it Happy Herb Pizza..

In the chaos of 1997 two shareholders decided to pull out and two years later Sophal

bought out the remaining partner. At that time, with a large, well-paid foreign workforce

in the city, he could earn from $300 to $500 a day. He now has nine employees and

his profit after expenses is from $700 to $800 a month.

Sophal has plans to enlarge his operation and to branch into other provinces in the

future, particularly Kampot because it's near his homeland province and an increasing

number of foreign tourists go there.

Happy Herb Pizza was among the earliest restaurants established in recent years on

Sisowath Quay. Now there are 19 restaurants on the riverfront between the Royal Palace

and Psar Chas. Khmers own nine of them.

And pizza supremo Sophal is happy with the way his life is going: "I do not

want to dwell on the past, because it upsets me. I am very proud of myself. I have

a car, motorbikes, bicycles, a house and now I have a Bachelor of Law degree."

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