Phnom Penh opens new location in White River Junction

by Lorraine Liu | 11/9/18 3:00am

On Monday, White River Junction witnessed an addition to its culinary diversity. Phnom Penh, the Cambodian restaurant that has been operating at 1 High Street, Lebanon for a year, opened a new location at 7 North Main Street in White River Junction. The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Phnom Penh owners Sarin Tin and Lay Yi started their business in 2015 as a food truck that sold traditional Vietnamese sandwiches and rolls at the Hanover farmers’ market. At the time, Phnom Penh was fairly popular among Dartmouth students, according to Tin.

“When we had a truck [in] the Hanover [farmers’ market], we had a lot of students,” Tin said. “A lot of students knew about it. I think now a lot of students [don’t] know [about us] because we never go there [anymore].”

Later in 2015, the food truck began to travel between the Lebanon farmers’ market and Hanover farmers’ market, serving Lebanon at lunch time and Hanover at dinner time. In 2017, after Phnom Penh had earned sufficient revenue, Tin and Yi opened a permanent restaurant in Lebanon and stopped their food truck service at the two farmers’ markets, Tin said.

About 40 people came to Monday’s opening in White River Junction, according to Tin. For the first three days, the restaurant saw a boost in the number of patrons, he said.

“It was busy,” he said. “We have a lot of new customers over there, plus the old customers.”

Tin said that Phnom Penh’s new location has added appetizers, desserts and lunch specials to the menu.

The restaurant will consider delivering if it has enough employees, Tin added. The new location currently has eight employees.

Tin said he decided to open a second location in White River Junction partly because of the demolition of the Lebanon building, adding that the Lebanon business will close when the building is taken down next year. Until then, both businesses will continue to operate.

Tin noted that establishing his business in White River Junction will help Phnom Penh thrive because of the strategic location.

“It’s cheaper rent, and I think the food industry is growing so far over there,” he said, adding that Phnom Penh will bring a different style of food for the local community.

Phnom Penh’s restaurant building in White River Junction used to house Polka Dot diner, which closed four years ago. The building, which has been empty since 2014, was bought and refurbished by Execusuite, a property company owned by Mike Davidson ’85. According to Tim Sidore, general manager of Ledgeworks, which manages Execusuite commercial and residential properties in White River Junction and Lebanon, Phnom Penh has an “extremely successful” location.

“It is right at the heart of downtown White River Junction,” Sidore said. “One of the popular selling points in White River Junction is its walkability. And walk-in traffic for Phnom Penh will be tremendous.”

According to Sidore, the location’s refurbishment remodeled the interior and exterior of the building. Specific changes included upgrading the electrical plumbing, renewing the dining area, expanding the bathrooms, painting the exterior and updating all kitchen equipment.

“We want to bring new life to the historic downtown,” he said.

Davidson wrote in an email statement that Execusuite is “proud to have repurposed this iconic structure, which was at risk of being lost.” He hopes students will visit downtown White River Junction to “enjoy its diverse culinary and cultural offerings,” he wrote.

Sidore said he enjoyed working with Tin and Yi.

“They are both very dedicated folks [and they] run a very successful business in Lebanon,” he said. “We’re thrilled to work with them, to introduce their business, their cuisine and their culture to downtown White River Junction.” He emphasized the diversity of the White River Junction community.

Ben Townsend, a customer who first started eating at Phnom Penh when it was still a food truck, said he likes Phnom Penh because it serves authentic Vietnamese cuisine.

“For a long time, I’ve been a big fan of banh mi, the Vietnamese or Southeast Asian-style sandwiches,” Townsend said. “It’s really the only place in this area that somewhat does traditional banh mi.”

Kara Nicole Polito, a frequent visitor to Phnom Penh at its Lebanon location, said she enjoyed the affordable prices at Phnom Penh.

“For the portion and quality, I think [the food] is very reasonably priced,” Polito said. “[It is] even cheaper than [what] I would’ve expected. I probably would pay more.”

Although Polito has not yet visited the restaurant’s new location in White River Junction, she said she has high expectations for it.

“I think that it’s going to be a really cool atmosphere to hang out with my friends at, and also get good food,” she said.

Sidore said he is confident that Phnom Penh will be successful at its new location.

“[Tin and Yi] ha[ve] created a warm, inviting atmosphere, and the food is excellent,” he said. “We’re thrilled to see so many members of the local community patronizing Tin’s restaurant and enjoying the location.”

Sidore added that he anticipates that the restaurant will become “a permanent, successful fixture in the revitalized downtown White River Junction community.”