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Bringing street food indoors – and branding it

Yam Yam owner Bryan Bai wants a brand that sticks.
Yam Yam owner Bryan Bai wants a brand that sticks. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Bringing street food indoors – and branding it

At Yam Yam, it’s all about branding. From the chopsticks to the spoons to the hat on owner Bryan Bai’s head, the name and logo are plastered across the eatery, which opened last month in the capital’s BKK 3 neighbourhood.

“The logo has to be everywhere to let people feel safe and comfortable,” he says.

This is not the first venture in Cambodia for Bai, originally from Xi’an, China. He’s also opened a fashion store – an experience which played into designing the joint’s graphic identity, he says.

The concept behind the food, he says, was to take the diversity of street food options found around the city – and his native China – and bring them indoors.

“A better quality environment, original taste, with the same low price – this kind of thing is still very new here,” he says.

Drawing inspiration from business models he came across in other Asian cities, Bai says he’s designed the business around catering to the young, hip urbanites of Phnom Penh. The wall decorations were commissioned from well-known young doodle artist Chhoun Vichheka.

“I learned a lot from young Phnom Penh people, I learned about their money habits,” he says.

The menu’s price range goes from 1,200 riel (about 30 cents) for a single bao to 10,000 riel (about $2.50) for the most expensive entrees, like the steamed noodle. It may be a small mark-up from street prices but, Bai points out, a food cart on the street sells only one thing; at Yam Yam, you’ve got the option of multiple food carts in one establishment.

The logo is everywhere.
The logo is everywhere. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

“People can enjoy all different [street] foods in one restaurant,” Bai says.

Despite being in the country for just two years, Bai says orienting his business to a Khmer clientele came naturally, as he saw similarities between Chinese and Khmer cuisine.

“Each cuisine has the same characteristics of noodles, rice, dumplings, bao bao,” he says, smiling widely.

The food itself at Yam Yam is what you would expect, accompanied by standard drink options like $1 red or green sweet iced teas.

“The food, as you can see, it’s not complicated. It’s fast-served, and this is the brand that people will look at and think when they want to eat,” Bai says.

The name evokes the Khmer word nyam (to eat) and also the Western word “yum”. But he didn’t call the restaurant “Yum Yum” because he worried it could be mistaken for a Latin spelling of the Khmer word for “cry”, which, as he points out, is not the desired result when eating food.

In essence, Bai is creating a fast-food brand, and already has his eye on expansion, taking the concept - and the Yam Yam logo - into some of the city’s malls.

Yam Yam is located at #69 Street 310. It is open every day from 6am to 9pm. Tel: 070 890 000 / 099 900 700.

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