For Srun Soklim, getting to the point where she was ready to open a second location of Eleven One, an unpretentious but upscale Khmer and Western food restaurant, was years in the making.
After more than a decade working at The Shop in various roles, she decided to branch out on her own in 2014.
But when she opened up a cosy restaurant near Boeung Trabek Plaza, with an emphasis on good service and healthy ingredients, she quickly found that her business was failing.
“Every day I was losing money because there weren’t customers,” she said. “People don’t know what is inside and they don’t dare to go inside.”
A friend she had worked with at The Shop had also opened a restaurant in Tuol Tom Poung and was struggling as well. He nagged her to join forces with him, and finally she gave in, moving to her current location.
The rest is, well, history.
Eleven One became a staple in the neighbourhood before new restaurant openings were the near-weekly occasion they are now. Soklim’s healthy food, Western-friendly but not dumbed down takes on Khmer cuisine, and reasonable prices have kept expats flocking to Eleven One. She hopes the same will be true of her new location in BKK1, which opened in early January.
The new restaurant has similar elements to its sibling – an open kitchen, sustainably sourced food and a large outdoor dining terrace.
Its menu does not currently have rotating weekly options but is otherwise more or the less the same as the original, with a delicious (though not traditional as it is stir-fried) fish amok ($4.5), tasty chicken curry ($4.5) and an unusual banana and chocolate spring roll with ice cream ($4.5).
At Eleven One, the food is consistent and reasonably priced, but it’s the ethos that the energetic Soklim is most proud of. A constant listener and observer, she incorporates her customers’ suggestions like a very proactive sponge. When it was mentioned to her that she should have a tofu amok, she made the switch, as she did when she discovered that vegetarians also cannot have fish sauce (she uses vegetarian oyster sauce now).
A customer reviews her rotating wine list, which she updates based on his suggestions, and another helps her to edit her signage.
“Every day I keep talking, talking, talking and they keep giving me advice,” Soklim said. That exchange goes both ways: the open kitchen at both restaurants is part of the mission to be transparent about the food-making process and to show that customers are getting a fresh, clean product.
Her restaurants also use biodegradable packaging for all takeaway orders, and bamboo straws to reduce waste. The organisation Plastic Free Cambodia has done trainings with her staff in Russian Market to teach them how to separate waste, and the proper methods to reduce trash. She also provides large boxes for suppliers so that they don’t separate items in plastic bags or boxes.
“Even now, I can say it’s not 100 percent that I can do, but I try my best,” she said.
While Eleven One in Russian Market is profitable, on a recent visit by Post Weekend, Soklim seemed to have some doubts about her new location. “For the moment, the Tuol Tom Poung restaurant can support itself. But the small profit comes here to support this place,” she said.
“Still, every day people come and say ‘it’s good, it’s good’. So why isn’t there a lot of customers? Maybe they don’t know yet.”
The new Eleven One is located at #20 Street 334 in BKK1. It is open every day from 7am-9pm.