There’s an obvious rapid increase in the number of coffee shops sprouting around Phnom Penh.
Cafés have become the “in” thing especially among the youth. Students now prefer to go to coffee shops for a tasty cappuccino, strong WiFi connection and an air-conditioned place to hang out or study.
But some café owners have gone the extra mile to make their shops more youth-friendly and learning-centered. We’ve seen the emergence of coffee shop-slash-library near our schools and office the past years.
Say Tola and Som Kanika visited some of these coffee shops and found out the inspiration behind them.
PRESIDENT Inspiring Library Café
Situated on the corner of Street 136 near Psar Kandal II, “PRESIDENT Inspiring Library Café” is not your ordinary go-to coffee shop when you want a freshly brewed espresso. Upon entry, you’ll discover that it’s filled with about 600 books neatly arranged on the bookshelves affixed on the white wall. Most of the books are about entrepreneurship. So if you’re into business, the café will be your heaven on earth, a place where you can sharpen your entrepreneurial mindset.
28-year-old Eu Tech, the co-founder of PRESIDENT, shared that he used to fail in his own businesses several times. It was through reading books that he learned and got back to his knees. He built the café with an aim to not just earn but share his love for reading; thus, the hundreds of books readily available for grab. Tech emphasised that the books in his café have personally helped him and his business partner to manage the café properly.
“I always discuss with my customers about the advantage of reading books. I personally think it is not a matter of how many books we have finished reading,
but it is how we can use all the perspectives of books to deal with our own lives. Not every idea in book can be applied, but in one way or another, they teach us a great deal about what to do in certain situations,” said Tech, standing in front of a pile of Robert Kiyosaki books.
He further explained that the café is really designed to go beyond being a mere coffee shop in Phnom Penh.
“Nowadays, gathering in the coffee shop has become a habit for some youths. So, we’re taking advantage of this habit, plus we want to contribute in their attainment of more knowledge through the books we have collected and displayed inside the café. When you’re inside the café and you see people reading, you will somehow be enticed to get a book or even buy one.”
Tech added that the café also initiated inspiring programmes such as [email protected] and CEO Password, where speakers are invited every now and then to give out helpful tips to the customers for a successful entrepreneurial endeavour.
“Since the books can be read for free, hopefully, it can promote a culture of reading among the youth in the coming years.”
Owned by a young and humble-looking lady, Chea Masiya, Mix CAFÉ-Cambodia is as an enchanting library cafe with a European vibe. With its huge glass windows, beautiful sofa and seats, you can get a good view of the busy Toul Tompong market. But more than that, Mix CAFÉ prides itself on the good music, good coffee and good books it offers to its customers.
The collection of books, which has already reached the ceiling, ranges from romance, horror to international politics. And they can all be read for free.
Huy Panhavorn, the former manager at Mix CAFÉ-Cambodia, said that the core inspiration for the café’s theme is to promote the habit of reading inside cafés since the number of young people going into cafes for a cup of coffee has significantly increased over the years. Panhavorn said that mixing coffee-drinking and book reading didn’t sound impossible and horrible; it is, in fact, beneficial to the society.
Mix CAFÉ-Cambodia is also a great venue for youth to gather together to have a project and academic discussion, added Panhavorn. He said that people can hold meetings about their project and enjoy their time drinking coffee. The café is also open for special events such as artwork exhibitions, photo exhibitions and small trainings.
If you open the door of Grit Café in Boeng Trabek, your eyes surely won’t miss the sight of the newsstand on the left corner stocked with scholarship brochures and job vacancy information. But that’s just the start of the not-your-typical-café journey at Grit.
A few feet away from the newsstand are hundreds and hundreds of Cambodian books suitable for all ages. There are also several Korean and English business and leadership books on the opposite side that won’t disappoint any reader who wants to expand his or her learning about the world.
According to the CEO and co-founder of Grit Café, Kram Sophanich, it is his addiction and passion for books that led him to build a coffee shop-slash-library in Phnom Penh. He shared that he has always been a wide reader since primary school, and that this passion has also helped him pursue higher education in Japan. When he returned to Cambodia, he brought together four people and created a social enterprise that can help in building human capital for the kingdom.
“I personally thought of opening library for the public at the beginning, but that won’t last long due to lack of funds. As people now like going to coffee shops, my team and I came with the idea of putting up our books in one shop. Now, people can read our books and can even borrow it for at least two weeks, free of charge.”
Grit Café also has a private room for students who want to do projects and assignments, and a spacious conference room that can accommodate 20 people.