The Poptea baron now serving up sandwiches

A shredded chicken bahn mi
A shredded chicken bahn mi. Eli Meixler

The Poptea baron now serving up sandwiches

Monira-Daniel Sir, 30, is the Canadian-Cambodian founder of Phnom Penh’s Poptea chain – with nine branches it’s the most successful of the homegrown bubble-tea cafes (he recently opened one with a library for student customers on Street 51). His latest food business is Nompang, which sells freshly made Cambodian (num pang) or Vietnamese (banh mi) style baguette sandwiches for about $2 a pop. He had a chat with Vann Sreynoch this week about the new venture.

How did you get into the food business?
First of all, my family has been in the food business for many years: my parents, aunt and uncle and other relatives all have their own restaurants, supermarkets, food factories et cetera, so I had the idea to get into the trade since I was young. I have strong potential in this business.

What inspired you to open a num pang and banh mi restaurant?
I have enjoyed eating num pang since I was a child, but I found there were no num pang restaurants in Phnom Penh that served a variety with good quality and hygiene, and an acceptable price, so I decided to open my own.

Nompang has a trendy timber interior with vintage toys on the wall
Nompang has a trendy timber interior with vintage toys on the wall. Eli Meixler

What makes Nompang different from other restaurants?
What makes it different is that we serve the simple food available in the market but with more options and better quality and hygiene. The price is still not much different. Also, the decoration in the shop is unique. The theme is a restaurant from the 1950s – even the workers have interesting uniforms.

Where do you get the ingredients?
All the ingredients are sourced locally and everything is freshly made to order. We don’t serve frozen food as we pay high attention to the quality and taste of our products.

Who are your customers?
We’re aiming for 18 to 45 year olds, mainly Khmers. As our location is in Tuol Tom Poung, we have about 20 per cent foreign customers.

Do you deliver the food as well?
For now, we do not do delivery, as food can lose its taste and quality, because when we deliver, it takes time, but we will try to find a way to deliver to our customers without ruining the taste of our products.

What are your ambitions for the restaurant? 
The first goal is prove that Cambodians can open their own restaurant successfully without having to buy a franchise from other country. Just like Poptea, I started the company by myself. All the staff are Cambodian, mostly students who study and work at the same time. I named the place Nompang as a way of praising Khmer food. I didn’t use a foreign word for the restaurant because I want other people to know more about Khmer food. The second goal is to make Nompang a well-known brand so we can export it to other countries.

Nompang sandwich shop is located at #89 Street 163 (corner of 408). Tel: 081 311 117.

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