PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The streets of Phnom Penh will be eerily quiet next week when most of the capital’s residents travel to the provinces to celebrate the Pchum Ben (Ancestors’ Day) holiday. Restaurants, bars and markets wil be closed and shuttered for the last three days of the festival to allow Khmer employees a chance to spend time with their families and carry out their religious duties.
For the few who remain, and particularly foreigners, the capital’s deserted streets can be a hungry place to find themselves. But a handful of restaurant owners have announced plans to keep serving during the national holiday, which runs from September 22 to 24.
Nyrola Ung, better known as “Mama” of Mama’s New York Deli, said her restaurant in BKK1 district will remain open for most of the three-day holiday. She said the popular shophouse eatery, which serves American diner food to a predominantly expat and tourist clientele, will close only on Monday to allow her a chance to perform her religious duties.
Ms. Ung explained that as most of her clientele are foreigners, they are less likely to travel to the provinces and will need a place to eat during the holiday. Working alongside her will be her long-time staff member, whose part-time job at another restaurant requires him to remain in the city.
“My customers will help serve too,” Ms. Ung chuckles. “Many times they’ll take back plates and get their own water. I treat them like family here.”
Owners of predominantly foreign-owned and expat-oriented restaurants indicated that with less competition, business is often brisk and the visibility helps to raise their profile in the community. At least one is planning to launch a new outlet during the holiday.
Comme à la Maison, a long-running restaurant in BKK1 district, will officially open a new branch on the Chroy Changva Peninsula on September 23.
A small number of restaurants catering primarily to Cambodian clientele said there is usually enough traffic to justify keeping their doors open over the break. The owners of Cafe Saigon, a Vietnamese and Khmer family-run restaurant, said the decision often weighs on the holiday plans of the management.
“My family is all here so we don’t go to the provinces for Pchum Ben,” said Chan Tau, one of the cafe’s owners.
There is one catch, she added. The cafe will only be serving drinks, which in any case is their main revenue generator.
Staffing is an obvious issue for Okun Cha, a Khmer restaurant in Riverside district that will remain open during the holiday. The restaurant’s manager said he will operate with a skeleton crew, dividing days off between the staff members to allow them a chance to visit their home province.