A little slice of Melbourne cafe culture in Phnom Penh

The Buddha bowl at Lot 369 is one of the most popular lunch items. VICTORIA MØRCK MADSEN
The Buddha bowl at Lot 369 is one of the most popular lunch items. VICTORIA MØRCK MADSEN

A little slice of Melbourne cafe culture in Phnom Penh

On Tuesday afternoon this week, a crowd of motorbikes lined the facade at new Tuol Tom Poung cafe Lot 369. Inside, there wasn’t an empty seat. Opened less than a month ago, the airy eatery (and soon-to-be bar) has already become a neighbourhood favourite.

The recipe is simple enough: good coffee and good food, including a crucial all-day breakfast. The low-key but stylish decor doesn’t hurt either.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The chicken sandwich comes with a big chunk of breast and a side of tasty chips. VICTORIA MØRCK MADSEN

Owners Celia Boyd and James Wilson, an Australian pair who also run a social enterprise, first envisioned the space to fill a niche they thought was missing in Tuol Tom Poung – a spot for an extended stay, whether for a group of friends or the headphones-in working crowd.

“We were thinking of ourselves as the main customer,” Boyd explained. “When I worked remotely, I used to spend all my time in cafes, looking for somewhere I’d want to hang out all day.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Lot 369 has become popular with brunchers and mobile workers. VICTORIA MØRCK MADSEN

Getting the ‘socially responsible’ stamp

Like plenty of businesses in Phnom Penh, Lot 369 brands itself as “socially responsible” – but what does that mean? A significant part of it includes a certification with Workers Sabay, co-owner Boyd explained.
Workers Sabay is a European Union-funded project of French NGO ACTED that grants certification to hospitality businesses that offer “fair working conditions” – in short, fair wages, as well as paid annual leave, sick leave and maternity leave.
“This is the first step on the ladder in terms of labour law compliance for many businesses,” said Ginny Haythornthwaite, the Cambodia country director for ACTED.
Management staff complete training with the NGO on how to treat staff fairly and equally. Started in September, the scheme aims to eventually certify 300 businesses in the city.
Chou Lundy, Lot 369’s manager, has already been trained as a part of the scheme, and the cafe should be certified along with 30 other businesses by the end of the month.
Boyd explained that her staff have received additional barista instruction, and that Lot 369 will also partner with iLEAD, taking on a couple of young trainees. She wants to create opportunities for advancement – through both solid training and salary increases.
“It’s often difficult to know whether people are being taken advantage of or not [in Phnom Penh],” Boyd said. “I know there’s a lot of hospitality training here, but transitioning from training to actually getting a job where you’re treated fairly is really hard to do.”

Accordingly, Lot 369 is set in a small outdoor courtyard lined with both long, wooden tables and high tops. There’s a coffee bar at the rear, and the beginnings of a herb garden sit in plywood boxes on an outside wall. Even with a
full house, there’s no sense of rush.

Recycled materials have been used where possible and customers are encouraged to bring in their own coffee cups for a discount.

“We lived in Melbourne for the last five years and took a lot of inspiration from Melbourne cafes,” Boyd said.

That inspiration extends to the menu – locally sourced, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options sprinkled throughout – and it’s likely the food that will keep people hanging around.

The aforementioned all-day breakfast items star. All are hearty, with plenty of eggs (poached is their speciality), open-faced sandwiches and a muesli option.

For lunch, Lot 369’s bowls ($5) allow fresh ingredients to shine – and spare no cost on portion size. The most popular is the Buddha bowl (tempeh, roasted vegetables, rice and homemade hummus). A few sandwiches are also on offer.

Finally, coffee sourced from the roasters at Feel Good (around $2.25), fresh smoothies ($3.50) or kombucha ($3) provide excellent accompaniment for a large meal or fuel for an afternoon work session.

Lot 369’s opening hours are currently Tuesday to Sunday from 7:30am until 4pm – to catch those who rise too late for other Russian Market brunch spots. In a month’s time – once the rooftop bar is renovated – the owners plan to keep the place open through the evenings.

In a neighbourhood where a new cafe opens seemingly every week, Lot 369 is one of the few to nail the key elements right off the bat.

“We wanted to create somewhere that suited everyone,” Boyd said. “So we said: ‘Let’s just do it ourselves.’”

Lot 369 is located at #13C, Street 454. Tel: 012 345 541.


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