Mrs.Ponlork Malis - One of many successful Amret customers
A dialogue with Mrs. Ponlok Malis, owner of Champa Donroeun Restaurant in Prey Veng, who is well known for her cuisine, especially the fried pork legs at the restaurant. A hard-working successful businesswoman finding her niche in the food industry.
1. How did you get started as a businesswoman? And what were the challenges you face and need to overcome to get started?
I took over this business from my parents who initially only sells soup out from our home in 2000. The biggest challenge then was not having enough working capital to expand my business or to hire kitchen helpers. However, my family and I continue to run this small cottage food business with what we have. It was tough for me to manage practically everything by ourselves from doing food groceries to cooking, washing dishes, running tables, taking orders, serving customers and cash collections. A typical day would begin at 5am and end as late as 9pm as operating hours excluding closing/cleaning up which can usually last will 11pm. It was exhausting and tiring but I guess if a person is determine and enjoy what they do, it is rewarding as well.
2. As a daughter, wife, mother, and businesswoman, how do you balance your time and focus to run a business?
During the initial year in 2002 when I was taking over this business, I was also pursuing a bachelor's degree in management and married with a daughter. It was indeed the busiest times of my life! I needed to focus and allocate my time on business, study, and family. However, my dream to have a successful and prosperous life for my family and to provide good education opportunities for my children spur me on as my motivation to be successful. I set aside a definite time for my business, my studies, and family.
A typical day for me is as such where I get up at 5am every day to buy food ingredients for the restaurant from the local market daily. Then it’s off to prepare the children for school, cooking and food preparation comes next for the restaurant as we get ready to serve customer for lunch. It is the children time again after school hours before I get ready to serve the dinner crowd. I can only allocate some time for my study in the night to complete my assignment.
To this day, I continue to practice this habit, especially so as my children grows older. I have to spend more time caring for them both on their school works and know who are their friends to ensure they keep good company. The family do allocate time off to distress ourselves from our daily routine. Overcoming these challenges also requires great support from my husband and family.
3. What stage of your business career is considered the most difficult period to get through?
The most difficult period of my business career was between 2007 to 2008 during the global economic downturn. My business starts to have a lot less customers patronizing my restaurant. At times it was very quiet and there were hardly any customers at all during peak lunch hours! I was really upset, worried and anxious during that time. However, I took the opportunity to innovate new dishes, improve customer interactions, and pricing the menu competitively to attract new customers. When the quality of food is good and the price is competitively affordable, customers are bound to recommend their friends & families to your business. The word of mouth recommendation is very important to any restaurant business.
Then most recently, the current COVID-19 pandemic situation becomes ever challenging again to affect the customer traffic and made my shop quiet again. To manage my overhead cost, I turn to off premise food orders & delivery to customers to keep the restaurant business running. The above 2 experiences gave me great learning lessons and makes me a tougher businesswoman to face future challenges. One needs to go through tough times to appreciate the good times. Perseverance, focus and a never give up attitude are the ingredients for success in the business world.
Fried Pork Leg
4. Any valuable lessons or key learnings to impart to women who wish to venture into business as a career?
I do not have many good tips, but based on my experience with the restaurant business over the years, I would like to advise all women who want to venture into business to not give up your hope or dream easily; especially do not be afraid of getting tired and hard work since there is no easy job.
Great customer service is of paramount importance for any business and we must be willing to listen to customers at all times to improve our products and services. There is also a need to innovate your services at all times to keep up with latest trends and be competitive enough to appeal to both returning and new customers. Staff training is also crucial to the success of a business for they represent the owner and the services that the owner or company is providing to customers. At the end of the day, to be a successful businesswoman, one must be ready to put in the hours to sacrifice her time between career interest and family obligations. It may seem easy but it is the hardest if you are not able to allocate the time efficiently. Like they say “a woman's work is never done!”