A new concept Khmer-Chinese noodle shop called Noodle Café is now under construction on one of the small streets west of Monivong as you’re heading down Sihanouk Boulevard.
Developer Justin Parker and his wife Felicity Chan are combining the success of their existing noodle shop in Takhmao with the tone and feel of a high-end coffee house open 24-hours with high-tech connectivity.
“We wanted something a bit more unique so that not only expats, but Cambodians could enjoy, so we integrated the noodles to make it very unique, and regular pastry and cakes and things that go well with coffee.”
Parker got a 10-year lease from a friend who owned the land and demolished the old building to make way for the Noodle Café which is now taking shape.
“A lot of our existing noodle shop customers are asking why we didn’t have a place in the city, so this has been on our minds for a while,” he said. “We want to be very technology friendly with internet, open 24 hours, with an electric socket under every couch and table. We want to reach to a broader client base.”
Parker’s wife Felicity Chan will be running the Noodle Café day to day while Parker makes plans to expand the concept to Siem Reap and Battambang.
“We want to be a Cambodian franchise serving very good food with consistent quality and top notch service,” he said.
“I’m very glad that I came to Cambodia. Not regretted the decision, we got married in Cambodia and long into the future we are looking to cement our commitment to Cambodia, stay here in the long term. There’s very little sign we are going back to US.”
Born into a family of Teochew Chinese in the Stoung district of Kampong Thom in 1972, Parker’s original name is Ly Kong Ming. His wife, also Chinese, is Khan Muoy Kea. Young Parker and his family escaped to Thailand in 1979 and landed in Lowell, Massachusetts, when he was 7-years-old.
Parker studied at George Mason University in Virginia before transferring to Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he earned a degree in economics and international business.
He later worked for Fleet Bank which was acquired by Bank of America before going into private and investment banking, eventually getting his stockbroker’s license.
Finally in 1999, Parker decided to backpack through Southeast Asia.
He arrived in Vientiane, with the idea of avoiding Cambodia, which for many of his childhood experiences had been the site of hardship and suffering.
“I came here anyway,” Parker said. Before long he was working odd jobs, met his wife in his own home town and married her in 2005. By 2007 he founded Orange, a public relations company which now has about 60 employees.
One of Parker’s clients is the US State Department which pays Orange to set up events such as the US ASEAN Business Forum in Siem Reap last year and the Women’s Empowerment Initiative.
Right now Parker and Orange are working on a project with the US Department of Defense to bring in a peace concert that will play in 12 Cambodian provinces.
“We bring the top stars of Cambodia together and travel into the province. We bring some business people with us so they can introduce their products. More importantly it’s a peace concert for the Royal Gendarmerie to promote religious tolerance and anti-violence in the provinces,” he said.
Parker said Orange, an advertising communications consulting firm, also works with NGOs including DAI, FHI, Khana and PSE and private firms including Roomchang Dental and Aesthetic Hospital, EMAXX and Prasac Microfinance.
In his family and his wife’s there’s a strong Chinese influence.
“A lot of my family members can speak Chinese,” he said. “We practice Chinese New Year with twice daily activities and traditional Chinese family gathering and foods.” Since he first returned to Cambodia in 1999, Parker realised that he’d be better off here than he would be in the United States.
“Back in the States, everything is mature and well established. If you’re looking to make your own niche, the safest position is climbing corporate ladders, but I have business at my heart, and because I came here on that backpacking trip, I decided to make a dream here in Cambodia: to work for the future of Cambodia, be involved in the younger generation of Cambodia.”
Challenges for Parker include tolerating people cutting in line, while waiting at the bank or a movie theatre or a supermarket check-out. In the US, it would be considered entirely offensive to cut ahead of others in line.
“I’m more frustrated in terms of culture and I try to stay away from politics,” he said.
“The environment here in Cambodia is changing with lots of integration of international culture which is great for the younger generation that gives a huge opportunity for young people to follow their passion and dreams whatever they want to follow in life. The timing is ideal right now; this is the best time to do all of it.”
Parker says Cambodia is a great place full of potential for all kinds of business.
"We want to ride on that wave of business in Cambodia."
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]