Within the compound of Wat Svay Popé, a verdant turn off of the bustling Sothearos Boulevard, is the unfamiliar sight of a café, a small venue which has gained a reputation as a charming spot for drinks and food.
While the monks are giving their morning sermon in the temple, a handful of servers are keeping busy under the watch of golden stupas. Seated at the assortment of tables and chairs, some made from repurposed car tyres, are monks, students and office workers, all enjoying breakfast and a sweet drink at Frank Coffee – housed in a refurbished shipping container painted in blue and yellow stripes with a wooden café counter.
“We are Frank Coffee, but people usually make fun by calling us Bai Wat,” or “temple rice”, says owner Boeun Chamreoun. “I am not sure about the others, but I believe we are the first to put a café inside a pagoda.”
Chamreoun, an executive at FM99 radio station and perhaps better known by his on-air nickname “Vitou”, says the concept originated from the popularity of street-side drink stalls. About two years ago he noticed the popularity of street beverages among Cambodian youth. The sight of happy faces sipping away at sweet drinks carried from crowded stalls enticed him to cash in on the street-drink craze.
To that end, he and his wife, Pen Chan Chakriya, set up a street stall by his office, but the traffic sent him looking for a more attractive location. The couple then had the idea to ask Bour Kry, the supreme patriarch of the Dhammayuttika order of Cambodia, for permission to open a café inside Wat Svay Popé.
The Wat also houses the Sihamoni Raja Buddhist University, where Chakriya works as an administrator. Part of their pitch, Vitou says, was that the university lacked a canteen, and the café could provide affordable food for students.
Running the business inside the wat’s grounds presents some quirks.
“The monks cannot eat after 12pm but they can drink, and they especially need the sweet drinks which give them the energy for the rest of the day,” Vitou says. “We also have the customers who come here to pray or offer the food to the monks, and our old loyal customers.”
But there’s no doubt the pagoda grounds provide a relaxing environment. The whole café is shaded by a large old cannonball tree – said to be as old as the pagoda itself – which partially insulates patrons from the noise of the busy city. An acoustic guitar hangs on the wall behind the café’s counter for customers to pick up and play in the absence of the chanting monks.
“It is quiet and peaceful, and the [monks’] sermons calm my mind. I also love the food and drinks here,” says 29-year-old office worker Phun Pearun, a regular.
To eat, Frank Coffee offers up some simple delights such as plate of white rice and dried beef served on a banana leaf ($2) or num banhchuk namya ($1.50), a traditional cold thin rice noodle dish with fish curry, edible flowers and fresh herbs which makes for a healthy and tasty bite, especially in the outdoor heat.
To drink, Post Weekend sampled the iced milk coffee with chia ($1) and the Tea Layer ($1), a sweet-tart solution of red tea, green tea and fresh milk, which has a mild taste unless stirred.
“Our place may not be big or visible from the road, but we have everything,” Vitou says. “We have tasty drinks and food … and even Wi-Fi, but please do not order alcohol because this is a pagoda.”
Frank Coffee is located within the Wat Svay Popé compound, off Sothearos Boulevard near street 830. It is open every day from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm. Tel: 012 44 98 89