TINI - A Thoughtfully Designed Café with Great Coffee and Art
Toul Tom Poung is fast becoming a hub of great spaces and places. TINI café-bar on street 450 is visited by an interesting mix of Cambodian students, a friendly film crowd, expats and shopped out tourists in need of excellent coffee and a bit of peace.
As TINI celebrates its first birthday, two of the owners, Sothea Thang and Daniel Mattes, spill the beans about the vision for TINI, the process of designing it, and where to find a good cake stand in Phnom Penh.
Where did the idea for TINI come from?
D: I had always wanted to run a café and bar which also had an arts/cinema component and Sothea was keen on having a space where he could show his, and other artists’, work. We talked a lot about it and in May 2015, we found ourselves actually in the process of creating TINI...which was a bit of a shock!
Can you tell us about transforming the space and your vision for it?
D: I live nearby and had been walking by this place - it used to be a Tiki bar. I thought it was a nice location near the market for tourists but also the neighborhood was really lacking bars and cafes and anything art related - there was only Apros Pub and Joma!
The place was basically a piece of shit with roaches and water damage, but it had good structural potential. Sothea was familiar with doing renovations of old buildings and saw potential in the space. We liked how the space looked like a house within a house with the porch and a small window. Families had been living here since the 1980s. The houses were built as a block and then separated into family homes. All the houses are connected by the beams. We wanted to keep those beams and some other features of the old house, but modernise them in Sothea’s style.
S: When I stepped inside, I felt that there was something I could play with. I knew that the building and form was old. There was a small window at the front, the stairs were outside, and the front was covered with a roof. I wanted to make it a garden and bring nature into it.
The space is small so we needed to try and open it up and make it feel like there was more at the back (Sothea cleverly introduced the plants at the back window as a ‘garden’). Upstairs, the original beams had been completely covered with plaster. I knew it was possible to make it higher and to make it feel as though you can breathe. The idea was to make it feel like a home, to combine the old and the modern and to introduce some nature and green space!
Do you feel that you achieved your vision?
S: I am happy with what I did. Yes, I feel satisfied. Some people who knew the old space have said that even though the cafe is now filled with my installations and the furniture, it still feels bigger. We want customers to feel happy, to feel comfortable and to feel like they are with family.
D: Yes, we think the place has a feeling of home-iness. Our little garden in front is welcoming, and one key homey detail is the central, family style table. When there are 8-10 people around this table it feels very convivial… And you are forced to talk to the person next to you if you need to go to the bathroom!
Tell us about the diagonal bar…
S: I worried how to make the bar open, how to make it bigger and where to put it. I tried to make it work many times in the space and eventually settled on it being diagonal.
D: An early idea was a normal rectangle bar but there just wasn’t the room. We sacrificed a bit of space behind the bar by making it diagonal but it’s more welcoming for the customers this way!
Who made your furniture?
D: Our other two owners have an antique furniture shop (Pavillion D’asie on Sihanouk Blvd). We have known them for a long time and we asked them to be involved.
S: The only thing we designed was this big communal table (ed: ...which cuts through the window and sits partly outside and inside. This was the first time after many americanos that I had actually realised it was the same table).
D: It allows you to sit at the table with your friends and have a chat whilst one smokes outside!
In the front garden, the steel tables were designed by Sothea and made by the same person who helped reinforce the structure of the property. They are better at withstanding the sun and rainy season here in Cambodia.
Is there anything you would change if you had an unlimited budget?
D: I have been trying to put in a projector for the past year. I wanted to do a weekly cineclub and I had the idea to project a film on the wall and create the vibe of a cinema. There is a restaurant in San Francisco that does that. Now I am thinking that I should just pull the trigger and buy one…(it’s expensive!). Little by little, we just keep adding new things that go well with the space. Sothea had our wood guy design a cutting board for displaying the pastries. (We all agree that sometimes it’s the little things make a big difference).
Where did you get the cake-stand?! I have been looking everywhere for one of these!
D: There is one location near the French Institute on st 184, a few doors down from 63. The place that has better selection is right behind Orussey. That’s where we buy our glasses from too.
The two things we have struggled to find are glasses and lamps. Sothea brought these (points to cube metal lighting fixtures on ceiling) from the market but then played with them to match the space. They mirror the cut outs on the wall.
Who would you collaborate with in Phnom Penh if you could do more events?
D: In the first week of August we had a pop up shop with Kosal from Kool As U. It was cool to see the front area used in a different way. There were racks on all sides. As TINI, we can support projects and events more than we can as Daniel and Sothea.
We also did Bonn Phum in April (a Khmer New Year youth event, now in its third year). The founders are doing a big fundraising drive for Sovanna Phum Arts Association (since 1993 Sovanna Phum has been putting on weekly shows blending puppetry and traditional masked dance) and we could do something to support that campaign here. TINI is entrenching itself as part of the community among Cambodian youth and Cambodian artists and I think this is really important. It was always my hope for TINI.
Other than TINI, what are some of your favorite spaces in Phnom Penh?
D: I like the Institute of Foreign Languages as the architecture of Vann Molyvann is amazing. It is also one of the only green spaces in Phnom Penh and I love to walk around the pond. I think the National Museum courtyard is pretty amazing too. I go to Le Boutier sometimes for drinks as my friend designed it. It is definitely my favorite bar in town. She also designed Arthur and Paul. I also like The D22 in Phnom Penh Tower. They have good couches!
Lastly, why did you call your cafe TINI?
D: We didn’t think about the fact it is also called Tiny. It is a Khmer style of humor and a pun on the Khmer word for ‘here’. Sothea designed the logo and the Khmer and English words fit perfectly together which is a complete coincidence.
Ok, this is actually the last question and I know this is off-topic but who makes your croissants (they are so good)?
D: Christophe the baker. Putting together the menu was pretty fun as I got to test-eat a lot of croissants...
Thank you Daniel and Sothea *eats more croissant*
Tini Cafe & Bar: #57, St.450 Toul Tom Poung