Bun Vuthdika is a Cambodian entrepreneur, who combined his business acumen and love for traditional food to create a bakery selling a unique bread made from toddy palm cakes.
After studying business and taxation in Japan, Vuthdika returned to Cambodia and opened Chrizt Ben Bread & Café, which specialises in palm bread.
Born in Kandal province, Vuthdika, 43, moved with his mother to live in Kampong Speu after his parents divorced when he was 10 years old. He studied Public Administration Law at Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) and continued with his MBA and a Master of Law.
In 2000, while he was studying, he opened a centre called Foreign Language School (FLS) to provide English lessons in the evening at Chamroeun Phol primary school. He then volunteered to teach English in several universities to gain more experience.
He later joined the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) where he had the opportunity to study more about business and taxation in Japan. The stint was supported and sponsored by MEF and the Japanese government.
This experience enabled him to acquire more knowledge and skills that would help his dream come true - turning toddy palm cake to bread.
What motivates Vuthdika
An entrepreneur now, Vuthdika said he achieved his goal by opening of Chrizt Ben Bakery in 2020, which is located on 2011 Road, Sen Sok district in Phnom Penh.
"There are a few reasons which motivated me to open this bakery. I have loved bread since I was young, so I was really interested [in making it] and remembered that taste in my mouth.
“At the same time, I live in Kampong Speu which has a lot of palm trees. So I thought, why don't I make use of this resource which would benefit people as a group?"
"In 2012, after I finished my course in Japan, I came back to Cambodia and visited an old place which sold palm cake but found that it was not being sold anymore. I asked myself, ‘Why don’t they sell as there are still a lot of palm fruits?’,” he said in an interview with Kiripost.
So he devised a plan where people living in Kampong Speu could collect the palm fruits and sell them for 1,000 riel per fruit. This would help them a lot. That was one part of his plan.
The other part was to help to reduce unemployment. He noticed later that the staff who were hired in his bakery and palm fruit collectors enjoyed their work while earning an income.
He identified the production as a “circle support”, where the entire process benefitted every person from the collector to the worker in the bakeries.
The plan finally materialised during Covid-19. “Because of the crisis, I couldn't find another job to survive, so I decided to create Chrizt Ben by asking people who can make palm cake with a nice taste.”
Reaping the rewards of hard work
Vuthdika said when he first opened his bakery, he was not very confident as he was afraid people may not like the taste of palm bread because many were used to the taste of bread from Western countries.
But, looking back, in the 1900s, people still loved and remembered traditional palm cake, so he made palm bread with the same taste as palm cake.
Today he has four branches where people can see how Khmer Bread is made. Following the first one at 2011 Road, the other bakeries are on Penh Russian Federal Road (110), Sen Sok in CG Mall, and 5 National Road at Udong near PPT station, Vuthdika said.
Business is progressing well and he is ready to open another branch at Boeung Trabek this year because many people are starting to know about palm bread and are keen to try it.
Previously, he used to make 2,000 cakes a day, but now he plans to achieve 100,000 breads by the next bakery opening.
He recently hit another milestone after completing negotiations with 7-Eleven which came to Cambodia on August 30, 2021.
The six months process of negotiation rendered him with some challenges in terms of meeting 7-Eleven’s high standards.
Before they sign any agreement, they need to verify and clarify several things many times, the Chrizt Ben owner said.
He added that the chain of convenience stores requires his Chrizt Ben bakery to follow their international standards, such as production genres, and must be hygienic, especially packaging.
In addition, all products must be tested several times to make sure they are safe and do not contain any substance that might affect customers' health and trust.
“However, I feel no pressure with this process because it’s a lesson learned on how I can move my business to the next level," Vuthdika said.