Starbucks At 'The Place'

I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Cambodia has a noticeable absence of chain stores, it makes things feel more unique and special.  And I’ve always gotten some amusement from the knockoff imitations that crop up.


Friday this caught my eye on Sihanouk Boulevard.

Of course, Starbucks coffee has been available in local markets here for years, but there has never been an official outlet. Like most chain store / fast food providers venturing overseas, I’ll wager our coffeemongers will attempt a toehold as a high-end luxury item.  The location of this large and prominent logo at posh hangout ‘The Place’ seems to verify it. You won’t find any moto drivers stopping in there for noodles and a frappucino.


Starbucks built its brand by relentlessly squeezing small independent coffee shops out of operation. They have also been extremely aggressive in suppressing criticism and labor organization.  I don’t mind the coffee (I’ll drink anything) and the shop environs can be quite welcoming.  But as a company, it hasn’t been kind to the people and causes I prefer.

For Cambodians? It’s something new to explore, if one can afford it.  And what’s wrong with a little difference? Who am I to tell people what they should prefer?

I find newness and novelty in learning about Cambodian history, art and society. The young adults of Cambodia’s baby boom generation have an enthusiasm for global culture and connections. I just hope it’s not at the expense of their own impressive traditions.

I kind of like living in Phnom Penh. I would be much less enthused if it started to look like Bangkok. Here is hoping that Khmers will incorporate, remix and revise new things much as the rock and roll scene did in the 1960s.

So… how to encourage the exploration of local novelty? Some people make careers out of sharing new things with the world.  The key is to share in an appropriate way, with taste and style. Some pundits and tastemakers will go so far as to turn down opportunities – in order to promote what they truly value.

also ranWhen I nominated Details Are Sketchy for a Weblog Award, ‘DAS’ steered votes in the direction of the particularly topical Ashin Mettacara , which eventually won.

Last PlaceBlogging veteran Pete Ashton took it a step further. While amused at his nomination, he actively campaigned against himself, earning himself the dubious title of “The UK’s Worst Blogger’. Why? To promote a project he originated: ‘Created in Birmingham’, a group blog that highlights local art in his home city.

This has given me some ideas to chew over:
a)    Postwar ‘baby boom’ culture that desires newness and novelty.
b)    Fascinating culture that can often be eclipsed by cheap foreign style.
c)    Growing critical mass of English/Khmer literate bloggers.

Maybe what we need is something that highlights Khmer art and culture, that shows the world just how much is growing and changing.

Khmeropedies II

‘Created in Cambodia’, perhaps? Hmm…

Sound like your kind of thing? Drop me a line via when you’re through with your coffee.

Postscript: photo re-shot March 25 (for fine print!) Tags: ,,,,,,

2 Responses to “Ubiquity and Novelty: Starbucks Lands in Cambodia?”

  1. [...] 24, 2009 Jinja sees that The Place is advertising “Starbucks Coffee: Coming Soon,” and responds. Starbucks built its brand by relentlessly squeezing small independent coffee [...]

  2. Jinja says:

    March 25: Dead Tree Bloggers @ Phnom Penh Post dig up some dirt:
    “Lawyer Matthew Rendall, a partner at Sciaroni and Associates, said that unless The Cafe had permission from Starbucks, it appeared to be a blatant copyright violation.”

Leave a Reply