She’s a familiar face to many of you, and she has a great story to tell.
[Adapted from an article in Cambodge Mag: https://www.cambodgemag.com/post/gastronomie-parcours-khantei-sok-et-la-ferme-ambition-de-réussir
International Women’s Day gave us on an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the hundreds of women who all play essential roles within Thalias Hospitality Group and what it has become today. One of those, Khantei Sok, sat down with the editor of Cambodge Mag to talk about her own evolution.
Born in Phnom Penh, Khantei grew up in a disruptive environment that did not encourage dreaming about one’s future, much less that she might one day become an Alumni Ambassador for Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, the NGO that gave her a head-start in life. But she did know that she had to commit to whatever she was doing, especially in her professional life.
“When I was younger and studying, I didn’t really have any particular desire for my future, I just knew that I had to work hard, learn English and then get by,” she said.
The hard work paid off. With brilliant results in hand, she was offered a place as a trainer for PSE’s training restaurants, Lotus Blanc, of which there were two at the time. There she taught the elements and techniques of catering for almost five years and then, in 2016, an irresistible opportunity to travel to Toulouse, France, for a training trip arose.
“I really enjoyed the experience. I learned some French, maybe not enough to carry on a conversation, but enough to understand and respond to French-speaking clients during my work,” she said.
Her experiences so far meant she knew she wanted to pursue a career in hospitality, and within that, to work for a large group. Topaz was her first choice.
“I knew the Topaz restaurant and I wanted to work there. Alain Darc [Topaz’s consultant-chef] was a technical advisor at PSE and in 2017 he gave me the opportunity to join the team”.
But after completing her training at Topaz and Khéma Pasteur, Khantei’s hard work and dedication meant she was ready for a challenge.
“Today, I am the general manager of Khéma La Poste and I work directly with Lina Hak, our operations manager for the brand,” she said.
Such responsibility is not always easy. Khantei is aware of the constraints of the restaurant business, but stresses that she has also learned the good things about it.
“I like my job because I simply love this business. I love the contact with people, I love gastronomy, I’m quite a fan of French food and wine personally.
“My favourite French dish would probably be coq au vin. I also like charcuterie a lot. At the beginning it was not spontaneous, I had to learn to taste this very European food”, she added.
As for the constraints, she takes them with a smile, aware that she works in a profession where she has to adapt to the clientele and the number of people in the establishment.
“I have hours that have to be adjusted to the restaurant’s activity. We have many customers, especially at the weekend, and I have to be available. That’s all there is to it.”
In the mornings, she assists her team to ensure that everything is in place and smoothly running for breakfast, and then again for lunch and dinner. She runs a daily meeting to discuss the previous day’s operations, to look at what went well and what can be improved.
In total, 48 employees work for this establishment. We asked if she thinks she’s a little young to be leading a team that includes long-time employees and older people? Not really, she says with a smile.
“It’s true that I’m young to lead a big team, but there’s a very good spirit between us and it’s going pretty well,” she said.
Finally, when asked about her future plans, Khantei answers unambiguously that she wants to continue her career with the Thalias group, a company that continues to grow and for which she says she is proud to work.
With Covid-19, there has been a sharp drop in restaurant business and Khéma has not escaped the trend. Kanthei explained,
“At first we saw a big drop in patronage due to fear of the virus. Then we put in place the safety measures that everyone now knows: temperature checks at the entrance, hand disinfection, table spacing.
“And these precautions apply to customers as well as to restaurant employees and delivery staff. In the middle of May 2020, customers started to return. Even if the number of customers did not reach the level of the good old days, the restaurant was back to a very regular business. We have a lot of promotional products such as free-flow, which work very well. We communicate a lot about our promotions and this also encourages regulars to come back,” she said, adding that it helps that Khéma’s pastries and bread have the reputation of being the best in the capital.
Outside of work, Khantei says she spends time with her mother, with whom she still lives, and also regularly visits her father, who lives in the provinces. In her spare time, she admits to having a soft spot for the music of Sinn Sisamouth, the Cambodian crooner of the 60s and 70s, and to enjoying watching local comedies. Travel? She has been lucky enough to travel to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, but mainly for business trips.
“I love to travel, I had the opportunity to visit Paris and I found the city wonderful. On the other hand, I can’t see myself living anywhere else but in my native country,” concluded the young woman.