In Phnom Penh, a small team of Cambodians are producing high quality chocolate with Belgian artistry – and large helpings of love.
At The Chocolate Shop on Street 63, chocolatiers Sreymom, Aly and Sopheak craft a range of delicious confections, from classic pralines to chocolates using the finest Cambodian ingredients, and even a full-size chocolate chess set.
Phnom Penh native Sreymom, the manager of the chocolate kitchen, has been working at The Shop for more than 10 years.
“I am very happy to be working at The Shop, the only place for real chocolate in Cambodia. I love seeing our chocolate becoming more and more popular, and the happiness it brings our customers,” Sreymom said.
Griet Lorre, who originally opened The Chocolate Shop in 2007, says her staff are integral to the company’s success.
“Our customers are very important of course, but our staff are too. Research, learning from traditional chocolate masters, years of practice and a lot of creativity and dedication has made our production team real professionals.
She said that with the growing success of The Shop 240 – it now boasts branches in Tuol Kork and at Central Mansions on Street 102 – she turned her sights on a lifelong passion – chocolate.
“I created The Shop bakery and coffee shop on Street 240 in 2001. Then in 2007, I added the Chocolate Shop, next door to the original Shop 240. This was the first real chocolate production in Cambodia.
“After running the operation of The Shop bakery and coffee shop for a couple of years, it felt like only a logical step to add a chocolate brand to our production.
“Having all the wonderful products like the Kampot pepper, Mondulkiri honey, Kampong Speu palm sugar available here in Cambodia made us experiment and succeed in bringing in new flavours,” she told The Post.
Chocolate is meant to be shared and enjoyed, and Cambodians are increasingly buying gift boxes as presents.
“While our chocolate is popular with both expats and Cambodians, because everyone loves chocolate, it is becoming ever more popular with locals, who now make up 60 to 70 per cent of our sales.
“Chocolates are the perfect gift for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas or Valentine’s Day. Developing nice, attractive gift boxes and seeing people smiling and happy when receiving these gifts makes all the effort very rewarding,” the Belgian said.
This commitment to creating happiness is resulting in year-on-year growth, but Lorre only says modestly: “We do grow every year a bit, yes.”
While 100g of chocolate costs $6, confections can be bought individually or in gift boxes.
“People in Phnom Penh who know chocolate say go to The Shop as there really is nowhere else producing handmade premium quality chocolate at affordable prices. All our cocoa beans are processed by a Belgian company using real Belgian know-how.
“I am proud to say that the quality of our products that we sell at The Chocolate Shop is easily comparable with [famous Belgian] high-end brands like Godiva and Neuhaus,” said Lorre.
The Belgian says The Chocolate Shop’s success story began as a real labour of love.
“Chocolate production doesn’t really like the humidity and heat we have here in Cambodia. So before we could even start producing our first piece of chocolate, we needed to put a lot of research and resources into creating the perfect climate conditions in the chocolate kitchen.
“But I like a challenge and I am from Belgium, which is famous for its chocolate. From childhood, I have been addicted to good quality chocolate – not the cheap supermarket stuff, but to the real high-cocoa-content thing,” Lorre said.
While she now knows what makes her customers happy, this was not necessarily the case at the outset.
“After setting up the chocolate kitchen, I realised that I didn’t fully know the taste preferences of our target clientele. This turned out to be a good thing for the customers of The Shop 240 – which is just next door to The Chocolate Shop – as during the six months before opening The Chocolate Shop, we constantly took them plates of free samples to taste and give comments.
“This created a very happy ambience in The Shop 240! And we can now say that our collection of flavours really comes from our relationship with our customers,” she said.