Cafe pioneer stakes out new territory

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Locally produced art adorns the walls of Java’s newest location. Kimberley McCosker

Cafe pioneer stakes out new territory

After 15 years of pushing caffeine and promoting the arts, Java Cafe and Gallery has opened a second location in the burgeoning Tuol Kork area

Open barely two weeks, Java’s new Tuol Kork location already feels like a regular neighbourhood hangout.

On an overcast afternoon this week, many of the plush lounge chairs were occupied by chatting couples and people clicking away on laptops.

The waitstaff buzzed between them balancing aromatic plates and steaming mugs of joe.

Sipping a small cappuccino, owner Dana Langlois expressed pleasant surprise at the high turnout.

“It’s been overall pretty good for the first week. Busier than I first expected,” said the sharply dressed US expat, who opened Java’s first location on Sihanouk Boulevard in 2000, a time when Western-style cafes were few and far between in Phnom Penh.

Langlois sat at the end of a long, dark wooden table running through the centre of the high-ceilinged cafe. On the white walls around her hung abstract paintings done by local artist Heng Ravuth.

Sunlight shone in through giant windows and the whole place had the feel of a chic, LA art studio. But it was not just the smart decor that brought in the customers, it’s the reputation.

“We tend to do well because of word of mouth. And it still seems to be going well – knock on wood. And we have a strong commitment to quality and authenticity. We make everything fresh,” Langlois said.

Besides the interior – which has a simpler, more industrial feel than the organic, colonial-style aesthetics of the Sihanouk location – and absent a first floor, there is little difference between the two Javas.

The menu is “exactly the same”, and includes all the Java go-to’s: the vanilla latte ($3.50), banana nut pancakes ($4.50), and the scrumptious burgers ($6-$6.50).

The coffee beans still come from local roasters Feel Good and the animal protein from Danmeats.

While Langlois had been mulling a second location for about two years, setting the place up took only four months. She did the majority of the design work herself and had the place built from scratch. Building it from the ground up, she said, was key.

“I wanted a large space where I could move things around [for live events]. It’s an important part of our brand, but also it makes us stand out.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Dana Langlois opened the first Java Cafe and Gallery in 2000. Kimberley McCosker

In Tuol Kork there isn’t much in terms of live music and arts. We wanted to offer something different,” she said.

Along with the normal slew of Java events – poetry readings, literary discussions, art exhibits – Langlois hoped to add to the mix at her new Tuol Kork locale, with live music, photography shows and theatre performances.

In October, she plans to host a show from a UK theater group who will be in town performing The Gentlest Giant.

Java’s move to faraway Tuol Kork joins a trend of popular local businesses making the move up north. To many, it has become the next up-and-coming neighbourhood, alongside the Russian Market, a place that Langlois had also considered for the new Java location.

But for Langlois, Tuol Kork seemed to be moving in all the right directions. Increasingly, there are lots of expats living there, especially families, and many businesses have already moved in to accommodate them, including Lucky Supermarket, The Shop, Burger King and Joma (located caddycorner to Java).

Aeon Mall is also set to build its second location there, to be finished in 2018. All of this prompted Langlois to get in on the action.

“The city centre is getting really expensive, so people are starting to migrate out to the edges of the city more and more,” she said.

“It makes Tuol Kork viable for businesses like mine.”

Mike Chenda Im, the owner of Mike’s Burger House, who also recently opened up a location in Tuol Kork, had similar reasons for moving out to the faraway neighbourhood.

“[Tuol Kork] is more affordable. That’s why everyone is moving towards Tuol Kork right now. Phnom Penh, in the city, you cannot afford an apartment there. It costs you three or four thousand there. Over here, it costs half the price,” he said, adding that the sense of community and lack of traffic were also major draws.

He, too, cited the imminent arrival of Aeon Mall as an indicator that he should open up in Tuol Kork.

Simon Griffiths, associate director at real estate firm CBRE, agreed the neighbourhood was an increasingly attractive place for investment. “Certainly Tuol Kork is an up-and-coming area,” largely due to low land costs, he said.

Finishing her coolled cappuccino and plugging her tablet charger into a table-side outlet, Langlois seemed confident of her decision to open up in Tuol Kork.

While she had heard the “disappointing news” that Starbucks was coming to the Kingdom to open its umpteenth location, such plans didn’t vex her.

“What’s disturbing to me is Starbucks’ way of operating, where they come in and just try to crush the competition. Still, I feel that we stand out enough with our arts programs and food,” she said. Java Tuol Kork is located at #20A Street 337.

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