The question of where to eat during Khmer New Year is one that usually needs quite a bit of chewing over. Supermarkets, food stalls and restaurants all across the country shut up shop for the holiday, leaving hungry hordes chewing the fat about where to go to chew some other things.
Over the past few years those staying in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have had an easier time of it thanks to the expansion of Express Food Group (EFG) and its restaurant chains such as Dairy Queen, The Pizza Company, Swensen’s Ice-Cream, Costa Coffee and BBQ Chicken. Now, those lucky ones living up the New Year break in Battambang can get in on the action.
Since 2013, EFG has opened a string of stores outside the capital and Temple Town. The group’s mission to bring hearty Western eats to the provinces has taken it to Preah Sihanouk and Battambang.
Nestled in the colonial architecture of Battambang’s Street 1, The Pizza Company and Swensen’s have already opened their doors and found their way to the hearts of local diners – right through the stomach. Open every day from 9am to 9pm, the restaurants cater to a growing clientele of both Cambodians and foreigners.
One such pizza partisan is Keo Chomchan. Having travelled with her four children from her home 70 kilometres away in Phnom Prek district’s Samaky village, Chomchan said she is a sucker for some good fried chicken, like that rustled up at The Pizza Company’s new Battambang branch.
“My children and I love the taste of deep-fried chicken. It is delicious, especially with their [The Pizza Company’s] unique ketchup. It is really tasty.” Her little ones prefer the shop’s namesake.
“My children like pizza. They tried it before at the first Pizza Company in Phnom Penh. A year ago when we visited Siem Reap we went to one there too. I can still remember tasting the crispy pizza dough for the first time. It was unforgettably good.”
Houy Sayorn, who manages the Battambang store, said business has been brisk.
“Customers come in all the time, peaking in the evening when families come to share dinner.” A lot are residents of Battambang city, but the pizzas’ enticing aromas are so strong that they’re bringing in people from miles away.
“Twenty per cent of customers are from the outskirts of Battambang city.”
Even though some think the prices might be a little high, Sayorn said, they believe that the rich flavours, high-quality ingredients and unique in-store decorations make the meal more than worth the cost. A strong focus on international-standard customer service is also a draw, he said.
“All our staff members are properly trained according to our parent company’s high standards, which extend to uniform presentation, hospitality, speaking manners and behaviour.”
Local residents also scream for ice-cream, especially the premium scoops being served up at the Swensen’s shop next door which, combined with the Battambang Pizza Company branch, employs more than 50 people.
Moeung Sokratana, the manager of the Swensen’s parlour, said: “There were a lot of ice-cream shops in Battambang before we arrived, and they had lower prices too, but since we launched early this year we have become the first choice of Battambang residents.”
In fact, Sokratana says, 80 per cent of the store’s customers are local residents. Aside from the mango paradise sundaes, one of the reasons customers keep coming back could be the excellent service provided by employees like Norng Markavanchan.
With a tertiary education in management, Markavanchan now works as a service staff member at Swensen’s after receiving thorough training.
“The work here is a bit tiring, but we like it because it is a good job. We receive decent wages and get more experience every day. It helps build our courage to communicate with national and international customers.”
An official at Battambang city hall said the arrival of The Pizza Company and Swensen’s will help improve the province’s image, which will in turn attract even more domestic and international tourists.
“What is important is that it provides more jobs for youth in Battambang. From my observations, I believe that these international chains will expand in the near future.”
As long as they’re still open for Khmer New Year, we’ll be happy.