Carving out a unique niche among Phnom Penh’s growing set of upscale cafés and workspaces seems a difficult proposition. But Kenneth’s Asylum – where juice-filled lightbulbs and gleaming hoverboards outshine the café’s more conventional offerings – is at no risk of being missed among the crowd.
Alongside a menu of Singaporean entrees, waffles and smoothies, Kenneth’s Asylum doubles as a modern-day cabinet of curiosities where community and technology playfully collide. Co-owner Kaynen Toh – who opened the business with the the company’s eponymous Kenneth Koh – says that the idea came about as a change of pace from their native Singapore.
“Singapore is too fast-paced,” says Koh. “Phnom Penh is small, slow-paced.” Yet Koh and Toh have no shortage of energy: The entire café, from conception to completion, came together in a whirlwind three weeks of planning and procurement.
It’s not their first venture together. If the Kenneth’s brand name rings a bell, it’s likely because of their kiosk at Aeon Mall, which offers free test drives of their signature conveyance: the hoverboard.
When he moved to Phnom Penh last year, Koh recognised a business opportunity in the faddish two-wheeled motor vehicles, which have seen wild popularity around the world but hadn’t yet hit Cambodia. He invited Toh to be his business partner.
Launching a café was the logical next move, and Kenneth’s Asylum – which is envisioned as an eatery, a late-night workspace, a retail venue and “a very chill bar” – may be the hoverboard of businesses. It’s flashy and delightful, perhaps because of its impracticality.
Case in point: “Angel Breath”, the duo’s brand name for a Korean confection that consists of liquid nitrogen-filled corn puffs, which release a cloud of vapour when bitten into – just because it looks cool. They’re still awaiting the arrival of the liquid nitrogen machine, but they expect to be serving Angel Breath within two weeks.
It will join the solid selection of meals, snacks and drinks already on offer. Chicken rice, a hearty Singapore staple, sells for $3.50, and a giant waffle topped with a scoop of ice cream will set you back $4.
A selection of smoothies cost between $3.50 and $4.00, while fruit juice and lemon tea, served inside the repurposed lightbulbs, are $1.50. In the evenings, they dim the lights and offer up a selection of about two dozen cocktails ($3-4).
But easily distracted customers may overlook the menu entirely for the shop’s array of technological treats. On top of hoverboards, Kenneth’s also sells its own line of virtual reality headsets, as well as palm-sized drones. (Soon, the pair hope to bring the Kenneth’s brand to nearby Laos and Myanmar, where they see a burgeoning demand for high-tech novelties.)
Beneath all the bells and whistles, Toh says he hopes people will see Kenneth’s Asylum as a laid-back place to “do work, watch movies or play Street Fighter on their iPad”. To this end, the space features shipping-pallet couches and a soundtrack of light jazz and bossa nova.
Though it’s been open for less than three weeks, the Asylum has already become something of a community hub, hosting a weekly expat-targeted Khmer class as well as meetups for members of the popular travel website Couchsurfing.
Toh is happy to offer up the space as a free, accessible event venue for the community.
“You don’t have to pay any extra cash... You can just have fun,” he says.
Kenneth’s Asylum is located at #44 Street 63, and open Sunday to Thursday from 10am to midnight, and on Friday and Saturday from 10am to 2am.