Moung Tevy has made it her mission to cut down on plastic waste at her Siem Reap restaurant, Tevy’s Place, which serves a mix of Western and Khmer food.
The 54-year-old hails from Phnom Penh and sold food at a public school in the capital for many years but was forced to change her work when she lost her selling space.
She later met a foreign friend, Cecil Holmes, who suggested she start a new life in Siem Reap province. With no money in her pocket, but with the help of her supportive friend, Tevy was able to launch her small business at the Old Market, selling Prahok, the famous Khmer salty fish paste.
Unfortunately, her startup was short-lived and one year later Tevy decided to open a street food place called Tevy’s Place near the gate of Damnak Pagoda and gained a strong customer base.
However, after a few years, her selling spot along with other areas in Siem Reap province were closed down after authorities banned street food sellers as part of the city development plan. She was forced to close her street food spot and follow a new direction.
Harboring a passion for cooking, she sought to set up a stable business at a regular restaurant. Despite the challenges she faced, she felt motivated to make her dreams come true.
In 2017, Tevy decided to rent a place to open her first restaurant in Siem Reap town. She started with humble dreams of opening a small business to support her family.
Today, she runs a restaurant that employs 14 staff, of which 12 are female. Running her business, she noticed a major issue with women was a lack of education due to poverty, especially in rural areas, which causes them to drop out of school early. This results in them not having skills to support their livelihoods.
After seeing this, Tevy became more motivated to help female college students who are studying while trying to earn an income to support their learning by offering them job opportunities at her restaurant.
“My initial purpose of starting this restaurant was I wanted to have one certain business and just hoped to have a decent life. But right now, I am not only having a decent livelihood, but I can also support my staff and community. I also collaborate with some organizations to help inspire more women in the community to start up their own businesses,” said Tevy.
She added, “I know for sure that they want to pursue their studies, but they cannot afford it. That’s why I provide jobs for them so they can support both their studies and livelihood.”
Occasionally, Tevy organizes workshops at her restaurant to motivate her staff and other women to overcome challenges and share the experiences she has encountered along the way.
Guilt of Eating Foods with Plastic Packaging Leads to Eco-packaging
“I used to buy food from others with packaging and when I opened the [foam] box, all the foods were hot and put in plastic. I felt uncomfortable eating it because I know the side effects for my health. Therefore, when I opened my restaurant, I always thought of my health and my customers’ health,” she recalled.
Overwhelmed by the use of plastics in the market, especially whenever she bought vegetables, fruits and packaged cooked foods, Tevy and her mother felt guilty about eating and using plastics every time they went to the market. In addition, she realized that using plastics to package food, especially hot foods and soups, has the potential to affect the health of consumers as the chemicals in plastics can infiltrate the food.
So, she decided to come up with her own solution. In response, Tevy positioned her restaurant to be eco-friendly with the aim of reducing plastic waste. Instead of packaging food with plastics and foam boxes, she switched to using eco-boxes for ordered food.
“In my restaurant, we try to cut down on the use of plastics, but we cannot eliminate it 100 percent yet. There is still 30 percent of plastic use and 70 percent of eco-containers that we use for packaging ordered food from home. We use bamboo straws in the physical restaurant and plastic straws are still used for food orders from home,” she said.
She added, “We try to avoid using plastic bags, but it’s hard to change that now as it is necessary [for delivery carrying] to package another plastic bag with the eco-box. I want to change to 100 percent plastic free, but it’s impossible since I cannot afford the cost of it yet.”
However, cutting down on using plastic 100 percent is not convenient to achieve currently as the cost of eco-bags, eco-boxes, and other eco-containers is double the cost of plastic.
For regular customers who order takeaways to eat at home, she asks them to use stainless steel containers as reusable packaging. She will wash them and return them to the owner after use.
“Sometimes, when we think deeply, we estimate that using bamboo straws can save more rather than using plastic straws. Because when we use plastic straws we use once and throw it away and that’s bad for the environment, but bamboo straw can be used many times after we wash them,” Tevy said.
To make her restaurant completely plastic free, she said she will consider increasing the price of her dishes from about 300 riels to 500 riels, to sustain her restaurant while also serving food without harming customers and the environment.
One plastic container cost between 300 to 380 riels, while one eco box costs between 700 to 800 riels.
Tevy wants to see more restaurants in Cambodia become more eco-friendly in the way they serve their foods to consumers because it is safer for eaters’ health and the environment.
“If you fail many times, don’t give up. We have to stand up stronger and restart again. Try to seek more inspiration from related business types or successful business owners who have gained many experiences for insight and motivation to keep going and grow more,” she said as her last key message to those who want to start businesses but are afraid to try.