Creative vendors cash in on appetite for meals on wheels

The mobile Hope Cafe serves customers on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard
The mobile Hope Cafe serves customers on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. Charlotte Pert

Creative vendors cash in on appetite for meals on wheels

No time to eat before work? No bother. A new fleet of smart and stylish food trucks, tuk-tuks and carts are serving up clean and cheap coffee and pork and rice on-the-go.

While mobile food is not a new phenomenon in food-cart centric Phnom Penh, where individual vendors hawk noodles on most streets, a series of branded innovators has arrived on the scene in recent months - from hot pink tuk-tuk cafes to Coca-Cola can-shaped fast food joints.

Mobile Pork Rice on Sothearos prepares dishes-to-go at breakfast and lunchtime
Mobile Pork Rice on Sothearos prepares dishes-to-go at breakfast and lunchtime. Charlotte Pert

One of the first was Ueda Coffee, the hot pink tuk-tuks of which have become a common sight since they first hit the streets in 2011. The mostly female staff now serves up more than 200 cups of coffee a day– both Cambodian and a more expensive Japanese variant.

The founder, a Japanese businessman, was inspired by the mobile food and coffee trucks in his home country, which roam the streets and parks dishing up everything from Japanese curries to Italian pasta, manager Mey Sreyleak explained.

The business employs 70 women and 14 men. “The first impression people had was that it was a woman who drivers a tuk-tuk,” Sreyleak said. “Customers on the street were surprised and supported them.

“[The founder] thought that after they’ve worked here, they will have new skills to earn money,” Sreyleak said. “Their training is about social behaviour, attitude-understanding and being friendly.”

Ueda Coffee on Street 294 serves more than 200 cups of coffee every day
Ueda Coffee on Street 294 serves more than 200 cups of coffee every day Charlotte Pert

In recent months, Ueda carts have been joined by Mobile Pork Rice vans, Mobile Cafe drinks carts, Hope Cafe coffee and more – all hoping to capitalise on a desire for cheap and clean food and drink on the go.

Bol Vanneat, the founder of Mobile Pork Rice, was influenced by Japanese food trucks during his time studying there, but only thought to start the business after returning to see the success of the coffee tuk-tuks at home.

“Mobile coffee vans are getting more popular,” he said. “We want to change the lifestyle of eating outside. So we make more healthy food and then we provide to the people working in the office.”

Mobile Cafe

Yam Chimm’s Mobile Cafe has been running for only seven months but already has 20 carts spread out around Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, selling coffee and other drinks as well as baked goods.

“Since I used to work for a telecoms company and travelled to Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, I proposed an idea to open this business out of my own pocket,” he said.

“What makes my business unique is the taste of the coffee and the techniques used to make and pack it – we have skills to make it fresh and keep the taste.”

Hope Cafe
Kheav Narun, the 33-year-old owner of the mobile Hope Cafe, which is usually stationed outside Tuol Tompong pagoda, says that his coffee tastes just the same as one of Phnom Penh’s most famous brands.

The cafe has only been open for a few months, but business is booming, he said. He plans to expand to tempt an even larger customer base, most of who are office workers, students and businessmen.

He said: “I am happy to have more competition, because when there is more mobile service, it is good for the development of the country.”

The first two Mobile Pork Rice vans hit the streets in June. There are now four travelling around central Phnom Penh, mostly serving office workers.

“We are now not only offering pork for breakfast and lunch, but we are providing more options, like a lunch set,” Vanneat said.

“Existing mobile vendors] are also interested in our carts, because ours are new and different from other mobile [businesses].”

Some have taken the gimmick further still. On Koh Pich, a pair of twenty-something brothers have been dishing up fast food since May this year – from inside a giant Coca-Cola can.

Open every day from 3:30pm to 9:30pm, their business, which is sponsored by the soda giant, targets the young crowd that gathers there in the evenings.

They don’t see the other mobile food brands as a threat.

Co-founder Tran Kok said: “If there are many mobile vans, it will affect my business, but can help develop the country . . . We will find more creative ideas.”

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