Serving Up Food and Creating Change in Siem Reap

On February 17th, Free To Shine co-hosted our annual Vegan and Vegetarian Food Festival with Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel at their gorgeous green paradise. Food was served up by Haven, Chamkar House, Footprint, Bayon Pastry School and Coffee Shop, Café .9, Pou Restaurant and Bar, Mahob Buos, Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant, and Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel. It was a beautiful sunny day, with music in the air and smiles on every face in sight. As a result, we were able to raise enough funds to keep one girl on our program safe from trafficking or exploitation for an entire year.

To read more about our previous events see here. This year, we wanted to highlight the heart and the people behind some of these amazing vendors that made the event possible. Ethical business partnerships provide an essential piece of the web of support Free To Shine creates for girls and families enrolled on our program. We are extremely lucky that the Siem Reap community has so many ethical and impactful businesses who continue to support us in our vision of educated girls, free from sex trafficking, shaping and leading their communities and country.

Haven: “Love. Honesty. Sustainability.”
Nestled on Siem Reap’s South Side, Haven is a social enterprise and training restaurant that exudes warmth; guests can immediately feel a sense of family and community as soon as they walk through the door. Haven works with vulnerable young adults and provides them with the support and skills they need to transition out of the poverty cycle and into successful independent adults. Haven’s goal is not only to provide students with the hard skills to make a successful career but also give them the confidence to feel they are ready to go out into the job market as their best selves. Beyond the amazing work they do as a social enterprise, the menu is also fantastic and features organic produce from their garden! With a mixture of Asian, International, and Fusion, and a whole host of vegan and vegetarian options, Haven’s menu has something for everybody. While it's hard to choose, our favourite would have to be the delicious vegan pumpkin burger with fries.

It all started eleven years ago when Sara and Paul Wallimann came to Cambodia and witnessed the ever-growing number of orphanages and residential care facilities around Siem Reap. They realized there was a service gap for children who grew up in residential care facilities between childhood and adulthood. They decided that they wanted to start a program that addressed this gap and act as the next step for kids transitioning out of residential care facilities to support them in taking the next steps into adulthood.

Because Haven is small, keeping the number of trainees each year to below 15 people, Sara, Paul, and head chef Pardet Chhom have managed to create a family environment for themselves and the trainees. Trainees live on the premises with food and board fully covered and are “given the space to be as they are and…the space to make mistakes.” Further, because of Haven's small size, the leadership team can tailor the program to fit each individual trainees background and needs—adding or changing courses, or even hiring trainees after the training period is over and continuing to train them until they are ready to actually go. Training courses include skills needed to pursue a successful career in food service, as well other important skills like computer, English, and critical thinking. In Sara’s mind, it is this family environment that sets Haven apart from other programs and ensures the success of their trainees long after the program ends. As Sara says, “Once Haven family, always Haven family.” Former trainees come back to Haven to share and celebrate graduations, marriages, and births with their Haven family, creating a community that continues to grow and flourish long after the 16 months are over.

We know that running a training restaurant takes a lot of time and a lot of heart; we’re honoured that the Haven Family dedicated their time and energy to support us through Vegan & Vegetarian Food Festival. Anyone who had a taste of their dishes at the event know just how great their food is!

Chamkar House: “Authentic. Green. Simple.”
Walking into Chamkar House is like walking into a hidden green oasis. Greenery frames the simple but elegant open-air seating area, which offers a peek into the restaurant’s own organic herb garden. While Chamkar was started in 2008 as “Chamkar Café”, in 2014 it grew to incorporate the new location of Chamkar House, which offers guests a more secluded location from which to sample their vegan and vegetarian Khmer fine dishes. French chef, Nicolas Devaux, started Chamkar 11 years ago after he visited Siem Reap and fell in love with the people and culture. Chamkar holds the title of being the very first vegetarian restaurant in Siem Reap. Chamkar prides itself in its green-conscious business practices, sourcing local organic ingredients from local vendors like Happy Farm as well from their own on-premises gardens. All of their plant-based dishes are gauranteed to be free of meat, fish, fish sauce, and msg, and are made in-house with love by their Khmer staff.

We at Free To Shine have had the wonderful opportunity to partner with Chamkar for multiple Vegan & Vegetarian Food Festivals where they have served up their classic Cambodian Wedding Dip with a fresh baguette. Each time, the dish, gorgeously and sustainably plated in a banana leaf bowl, is an instant crowd favorite and sells out quickly. Beyond serving up delicious food in a relaxing environment Chamkar has some exciting upcoming plans. In chatting with the Chamkar team, they clued us in to their plans to begin serving afternoon tea and doing Khmer cooking classes at Chamkar House. We are grateful for their continued support of Free To Shine and so excited to see their future growth.

Footprint Cafés: “People. Planet. Profit”
Tucked away on Street 26, just off Wat Bo Road, Footprint Cafés is a social enterprise book café with a great vibe that offers customers the chance to nourish their stomachs and their minds. Their vegan and vegetarian-friendly menu features both local and international favorites as well as a variety of all-day breakfast dishes. Our personal favourite is the Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes with sautéed Green Apples, Bananas and a Ginger Glaze, which you can enjoy while perusing the wide selection of Khmer and English books that line their walls. The café is a triple bottom line social enterprise and a UK registered charitable incorporated organisation with a three-pronged focus: people, planet, and profit.

Georgina Hemmingway, Footprint’s founder, breaks it down like this:
People. They do all that they can to look after the team members and “allow them to follow their dreams.” This means, beyond best labour practices of offering a fair wage, both maternity and paternity leave, and paid sick and carer leave, they also do a matched fund saving scheme for employees and provide team members with training opportunities in areas beyond the food service industry.

Planet. They take an environmentally-conscious approach to their business practices in order to leave as little a footprint as possible. This means doing things like using metal straws and using bags made from plant materials, recycling their cooking oil, giving their coffee grounds to Angkor High School’s gardening project, and constantly looking for ways to innovate.

Profit. What makes Footprint stand out as a social enterprise is that 100% of their net profits go back into the local community for social entrepreneurial projects or education projects. The projects that Footprint funds are selected by the Khmer staff because “[Footprint] believe[s] that the best people to decide how a community should develop is the community.” Free To Shine was honoured to be chosen as a grant recipient this past year for Footprint’s Book Grant, and through the grant we were able to purchase 212 new books to add to our Mobile Library.

Footprint’s newly opened co-working space, located above the café, aims to provide local Cambodians and digital nomads with everything they need to get their work done. The impetus for creating the space was to provide young Cambodian entrepreneurs with an enterprise space so they “can follow their dreams”. Footprint itself was originally part of an incubator program at Cambridge University, and was given access to knowledge, resources, and money through this, so they really “want to give young Cambodians the same chance” that they themselves had. In fact, in the next few months, Footprint is going to start giving away some free three-month spaces to young Cambodian entrepreneurs so they can use the space and the community to develop their business ideas.

Footprint expertly balances their focus on hyper localised giving with their bigger dream of expanding the Footprint model far beyond Siem Reap. Their dream is to become as big and as recognizable as Starbucks, and they’re confident they can achieve it. The Footprint team is a joy to collaborate with and we’re so grateful for the opportunity to partner with such a visionary social enterprise.

We at Free To Shine would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Haven, Chamkar House, and Footprint and the other amazing vendors. These three, as well as Bayon Pastry School and Coffee Shop, Café .9, Pou Restaurant and Bar, Mahob Buos, Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant, and Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, represent a sampling of the incredible generous and socially conscious leaders that makes the Siem Reap business community unique. Stay tuned for a follow up blog post with our marvelous partner and co-host, Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel.