Picking up on a concept pioneered in Melbourne and Singapore, the bike shop offers complimentary drinks and snacks – but only to potential customers
Bong Cafe could tick the boxes for a freelancer’s perfect hangout – it is centrally located, serves decent coffee and is anchored by a large communal table with comfy seating.
But there’s a catch for most potential patrons of this stylish (and excellently named) cafe – the owners don’t really want you there.
“We’ve got a menu for walk-in customers, but we don’t expect many people to come and have coffee like that,” says Sam Vincen, the cafe’s 32-year-old manager.
Instead, Bong Cafe is intended as a canny, albeit costly, piece of marketing for Vincen’s true passion – the three-month-old Tonner Bicycle shop, accessed through the cafe via a sliding glass door.
The bike shop is about as high-end as they come. Its bikes range in price from $1,000 to $3,000, and the cheapest adult bike helmet costs $80.
Vincen is unwilling to describe it as unequivocally the city’s most high-end biking outlet, but only because he’s still waiting for certain brands and specialist parts to ship in.
“With what we’re trying to do, what we want to do, we are the one,” he says confidently.
The addition of the slickly designed Bong Cafe was, Vincen explains, the brainchild of the shop’s Singaporean owner, picked up from similar ventures in Singapore and Melbourne.
Branded a “lifestyle” cafe, Vincen intends it to be a hub for bike enthusiasts – a place where they can meet for a coffee prior to going out on a ride, or where they can sit down with Tonner’s resident expert to discuss a new purchase.
“They can’t just spend thousands of dollars [on a bike] just by coming in and buying it – they need more explanation.”
Tonner’s “lifestyle” branding means other sports-oriented add-ons, such as the hot showers available out the back, but also some strange ones – Bong Cafe sells ornamental glass mugs in the shape of cow’s udders, and female busts.
Next month, their brand will extend still further when Tonner starts organising its own bike meets.
“They can come together early in the morning, they can have a coffee here, and then I have two professional riders who can lead the ride.”
For these – its intended customers – Bong Cafe is meant to be a home away from home, right down to the fact that most of their menu items won’t cost them a cent.
The coffees, toasties and energy drinks on offer are all on the house for bicycle shoppers, although there’s a charge for beers.
“It’s not a bar,” Vincen says seriously.
For everyone else, Bong is enticing but overpriced: its coffees – made with a capsule coffee machine – cost $3, and its toasted sandwiches are $3.50, ungarnished.
Vincen is more than happy to admit that it’s a costly option.
“We’re a little bit expensive – even compared to Brown Coffee,” he points out.
But there’s no question that Bong Coffee is integral to Vincen’s vision of building a thriving community around the bike shop that will help attracts “medium brand and top brand people” away from Phnom Penh’s other bike retailers.
“The concept we’re doing is different from them. We have the coffee.”
Bong Cafe is located at #21 Street 352.