Whilst on holiday in South East Asia, I came across two incredible companies. In each case, the proprietors and I chatted about how customers find businesses – and how businesses could find the right customers. See, in Cambodia, places routinely emblazon TripAdvisor signs in huge font outside their establishments to pull in the tourists. Even if it’s a 3.5 star review, it goes up on corrugated plastic on a sandwich board outside – I found the whole thing very interesting, as both the businesses below chose not to go that route.

Though I am not a big business CEO (yet!) I have been lucky enough to talk frankly with some pretty big movers and shakers in technology, manufacturing and more as part of my job. And tea and good food makes me very talkative. I was particularly intrigued by the places below because there was an extra element to them: the idea of running a small business with a degree of social responsibility built in.

Place 1: Haven, Siam Reap, Cambodia

Haven Restaurant is run by a formidable couple who after holidaying in Cambodia, decided to sell everything they owned, and pack in Switzerland for the ‘wet and sweat’ combo of Siam Reap – beloved home to Angkor Wat and hundreds of smaller temples. Sarah and Paul braved the complexities of setting up a business in a foreign country. They built (and now run)  a chilled-out restaurant that serves tasty cuisine at a reasonable price for tourists – the place also happens to train young adult orphans as apprentices as part of its business model. As well as a salary, graduates gain the skills required for re-employment, and have all their tips saved in a bank account so they also get a lump sum at the end of their year’s training.

The food is good too. So I asked if Haven could make me a fresh Vietnamese roll that I could triumphantly unpack and eat while everyone else looked on with undisguised jealousy. It occurred to me – if I (and other lovers of tasty food) could be discerning enough to seek out good restaurants then clearly we would be prepared to pay for a nice packed lunch. I suggested this to Stef, one of the staff members between mouthfuls of baked Oreo cheesecake.

My business-minded companion added that this is actually a well known strategy – to ‘expand into related revenue streams’ outside a business’s limitations – for example, in a restaurant, you can only sell to people physically sitting in a space, and when they are full of food and drink, that’s it. So, restaurants can offer cookbooks, hampers, packed lunches, food delivery, you get the idea. I’ll update this blog if I hear they’ve decided to do that – because my lunch was indeed triumphant.

Above: Pictures from Siam Reap, Cambodia

Place 2: Reaching Out Teahouse, Hoi An, Vietnam

A beautiful coastal resort, Hoi An is liberally scattered with tourists who forgive the ‘theme park’ nature of the Old Town because of its beauty and tranquility, that is, on certain days when they close the tiny streets off from motorcycles.

Side note: People who spend enough time with me know I have a serious thing for tea – notably pu-erh and oolong as well as good old builders (without sugar), not forgetting what I like to call a Picard (Earl Grey, Hot). These long-suffering types have accepted that passing a teahouse for me is pretty much impossible. They are resigned to the fact that, left to my own devices,  I am happy to consume tea until there is no tea left. Small wonder then, that the Reaching Out Teahouse and I were destined to cross paths. An artisan teahouse, complete with artisan biscuits. As far as I was concerned, this was where I would sit for the rest of the day. And so I watched the sun set, slowly bloating myself with delicious, high-quality tea.

Time passed. After a vast and quite frankly impressive quantity of tea – in many forms –  was absorbed, one of the owners of the social enterprise, Quyen, came to say hello. She explained that the staff here are deaf or speech-impaired, which is why it is in fact a silent teahouse. Everyone communicates with smiles, gestures, or wooden blocks with writing in English on one side for the customer which is held up to summon the staff member.  By the way, it wasn’t just the contentment gained from silently enjoying tea and biscuits which made me fall in love with this place. It’s also that the Single Estate Oolong tea might be among the best I have ever tasted. Readers of the previous paragraph will realise that is a very, very big data set indeed.

Above: Pictures from Hoi An, Vietnam

I like the “Good Business” business model!

Both places were so delightful, I visited them twice. And, in both cases, this was mainly because service and product were outstanding. I came away with the feeling that if places just had a good idea and ethical ‘feel good’ factor it might get people visiting – but repeat custom and earnest recommendations will only come if the product is ultimately desirable regardless of any worthy underpinnings. I wish both Haven and the Reaching Out Teahouse the best of luck in their endeavours.

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Above: Pics from the Heaven & Earth Bicycle Trip, Vietnam

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