Our founder, Soann Kann is a self-made Cambodian entrepreneur with an inspiring life story. In a five-year period, he has opened two high-end restaurants, two successful, large spas, a stylish boutique resort and an elegant River Lounge.
Kann’s fearless approach to business can be traced back to his childhood. He grew up through a civil war with his parents and five siblings in a poor farming village around 18km from Siem Reap. “We often did not have enough rice to eat. I worked from a very young age, selling food at markets. To survive, my mum would do different kinds of business, depending on what she could grow or what was in demand. I learned from her the importance of being adaptable,” he says.
Once a teenager, Kann moved to the city to work at a local restaurant, becoming the breadwinner of the family. When the Sofitel opened in 2000, he joined their F&B team as a food runner. As tourism blossomed, so did Kann’s career – he moved up into various management roles at high-end hotels. Six years later, he met the owner of the Bodia spa chain, at that time still in construction. He interviewed for the general manager position three days later and got the job, later travelling to Bangkok to complete a diploma in massage therapy at the Chiva Som Academy. Working alongside Bodia’s owners, he soaked up their expertise in finance and marketing. “I learned confidence, and that I too could be an influencer,” he says. Kann left Bodia to pursue his own dreams in 2012 and opened the original Sokkhak Spa that year.
Six months later, he had opened his first restaurant Chanrey Tree on the banks of the Siem Reap river. Kann is passionate about unique and lesser-known Cambodian ingredients and flavours and built the Chanrey Tree menu around recipes and notes he’d taken when eating at local markets and friend’s homes across the country – not to mention those he’d cooked and sold as a child. “I knew there was a market for authentic Khmer family cooking but with a refined twist. Back then [when he opened] nobody did that. If you went to a Cambodian restaurant you could always still order a bowl of chips or a pizza with your amok. You can’t at mine,” he says.
“I wanted all of my dishes to tell a story – where they are from, how they evolved, the people behind them. I think in business this is so important, that your product or service somehow tells a story. It’s how you connect with consumers.”
Kann is also an art aficionado and a big champion of Cambodia’s new generation of creatives. His design ethos is, in many ways, a tribute to Angkor and the might of the ancient Khmer empire. “One of the bonuses of operating as a business here is the rich visual and historical inspiration we can draw on. We already have it all here, right down the road, and despite losing a lot of culture through the war [it’s estimated 90% of Cambodia’s artists were killed throughout Pol Pot’s ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime between 1975-79], I believe design will always be in our blood,” he says.
But it’s the beguiling blend of the exquisite artistry of his ancient Angkorian ancestors with a more contemporary Cambodian design that sets Kann’s businesses apart. Sokkhak Boutique resort, for instance, is scattered with antique vessels and intricate old woodcarvings as well as colourful abstract art by Savann Thav, a French-Cambodian painter. At Chanrey Tree, diners are welcomed by Buddha sculptures and shrines as well as pop art paintings of ’60s pop stars. “I believe it is important to support our new generation of artists. As long as the work fits with my taste, I will buy it –whether old or new,” Kann adds.