Born in Phnom Penh, 37-year-old Khuon Vannara is full of energy. Behind his good humour and smile, you’ll find an incredible determination that he has employed at Malis in Phnom Penh for several years.
Vannara understood from a young age that “the keys to success are found in working together and in cohesion”. Whether it’s on the football terraces or when he’s playing live guitar with his local band. For him, every experience is enriching and offers a new perspective. Today, he is the director of Malis in Phnom Penh, a completely different path from his first career plans. In his free time, he spends his energy playing football, or following his second passion, music.
Khuon Vannara went to school in the capital until he got his baccalaureat. At that age, he was already obsessed with music. “We were part of a group with a couple of classmates and we played at events organised by the school. After I got my diploma, I decided to follow this path and I played with another group for weddings and parties”.
“These moments are engraved in my memory, every exchange with the public was so enriching.”
Nonetheless, a musician’s income is slim. After multiple discussions with his mother, Vannara decided to follow her advice and music was put back to Plan B. “I said farewell to my long hair, and started to look for work in the service sector,” he said.
From Stage to Service
In 2007 Vannara put his first foot through the doors of Malis in Phnom Penh where he started as a barman.
“At first, working in service was not a part of my ambitions. I was going to put in a year or two in order to get a new experience, but after a while, I changed my mind”.
Vannara then moved onto the dining floor as a waiter. Two years later, he became a captain and started learning management methods. After three years, he graduated to supervisor and completed his apprenticeship in becoming a deputy manager for two years. And now, thanks to his willing and perseverance, and not forgetting his team’s support, he directs the restaurant.
This passionate young Cambodian says that he doesn’t count the hours while working to provide the best possible service in one of the best Cambodian restaurants in the capital. He spends most of his time on daily operations, starting his day at 8am and finishing the first service at 2pm. He then comes back at 6pm, to finish at 9pm, sometimes later depending on what’s happening. His role consists mainly of coordinating and directing the staff working on preparing the tables and the service. Between morning meetings with his superior and colleagues, he ensures good communication between the ‘brigade’ in the kitchen and the team in the dining room, providing advice and recommendations where needed and always supporting his team’s morale.
It was Vannara’s characteristic perseverance that brought him through some of the obstacles that arose. “When I became a waiter, learning English was a considerable challenge,” he said.
“Becoming bilingual was essential because we also welcome international clients”.
“Then, when I became a captain, I had to learn management techniques. Being quite close to my immediate superior, I told them that I need to learn more in order to become even more efficient. Their presence and advice helped me a lot, and I was also able to count on support from Thalias Group. The company offers training on everything from wine to management, and on all the aspects of our profession.”
With regard to the current health crisis, Vannara said, “Because of the virus and the economic crisis it brought, we’ve been obliged to take difficult measures such as putting some employees on part-time contracts. There has been a significant drop in customer numbers, but we have recently noticed a progressive return of regular customers”.
“We also reacted very quickly to put in place strict health measures, with regular disinfection, making hand gel available, taking our customers’ temperatures, and mask-wearing for all our employees.”
With regard to the future, Vannara remains ambitious. For him, life is a series of tests that must be thought of the same way as experiences. “I have a constant need to evolve. I would like to become a general manager or director of an establishment within my own company. To do that, I need a few more years to develop and acquire new skills. Happy and fulfilled at Thalias, I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon”.