Soann Kann has opened a spa, hotel and two restaurants in temple town at breakneck speed. Writer Joanna Mayhew sits down with Sokkhak Group’s 36-year-old managing director to find out the back-story to his success. Photography by Anna Clare Spelman.

How long have you worked in hospitality?
Since I finished high school. I finished in 1997 and moved to Siem Reap. My first job was in a restaurant as a waiter, and I went from waiter to supervisor, assistant, and then manager. I started with Sofitel, then moved to Intercontinental in Phnom Penh, and after a year came back and joined Sofitel again, and then moved to Victoria Hotel Resort. In total that was seven-and-a-half years. I decided to move on because I had the opportunity to work in a spa. The spa was a completely new career, new challenge. I worked there seven-and-a-half years. Then I said, it’s time for me to start my own business. I started with my spa, Sokkhak Spa, in 2012.

What else have you opened?
I spent about one year in the spa, and then I had an offer of property. I thought it was too soon to open another spa so I went for a restaurant. Chanrey Tree opened in 2013. After one year, I opened Sokkhak Boutique Resort, six months ago, and at the same time I opened Sokkhak River Restaurant, in December 2014.

What do they offer?
For Chanrey, we focus on typical Khmer food, as a high Khmer concept. For Sokkhak River, the concept is focused more on French fusion; we use a French base but [make it] creative. I wanted to create something new for the city. Together with the Khmer chef, we work to create the food taste and presentation. All four properties are different, but the concept for each of them is a relaxing environment. We mix modern and Khmer design, with local resources and materials as the main elements.

What has made you successful?
I do things that I know, related to my working experience. I really focus. Also, relationships help. Siem Reap is my hometown, and I love the city very much. The connection I had here was very strong to build a business. It’s very hard work. I put all my time into my business. Even if I’m building a new business, I never go far from the old one. I still control the quality of the spa and first restaurant. And at the same time, I work on my new projects. [Also] I think [being a Khmer owner] is a big advantage. When tourists come here, they expect to meet Khmer owners. They want to have Khmer food, owned by Khmer people.

How can a business stand out in Siem Reap?
The first key element is location. Following location, you have to think about the concept, how it will look, and then create something special. If all the restaurants are the same, it’s very hard to do marketing. [Another] key success is people. The thing I’m most proud of is my people. [I have] 20 people working with me, and we all grow together. [Because of] my background, I want to treat people fairly.

What are some mistakes you’ve made?
We plan the budget, but most of my businesses have been double or triple. It’s very hard to estimate; construction prices and labourer prices have increased. But we survived. All businesses have their own challenges, their own little things. In my mind, I just wish the country is at peace. If the world is at peace, all challenges are opportunities.

What keeps you in hospitality?
This spirit comes from my heart. Even when I was young, I saw those things on TV and said one day I want to be a waiter. When I was [working my way] from the bottom up, it was coming from my whole spirit. I like to care for people, like with massage.

What does your family think of your work?
They are very proud of me, and I like that. My family is from a small village 20km from Siem Reap, and my parents are farmers. Coming from a very poor family, I made this grow, from the bottom line, and my family is so proud. The whole team is working with me now; [it’s] kind of a family business. My brothers, sisters and cousins are working in the spa and restaurant. I pushed everybody up. A lot of people working in the spa and restaurants come from my village. Most are coming from zero background, and I train them to be professionals. I’m proud that I never went to school, and I can make this. I never thought that one day I can go to this stage. But passion is leading. And here I am.