Aussie sisters Lauren and Cassie Gravett aren’t exactly ones to follow the crowd.
Originally from Melbourne in Victoria, this irrepressible duo (aged 25 and 22 respectively), opened their fabulously popular Sister Srey Café on the riverside, near the Old Market of Siem Reap, Cambodia, on November 1st, 2012. The cosy two-floor venue quickly turned into one of the most popular hang-outs in town – and you don’t have to look too hard to find out why.
With comfy sofas upstairs that overlook the river, free WiFi, and a mouthwatering menu that offers everything from Sunday Roasts to the best coffee in Asia, in March this year they even re-launched their upstairs library/communal bookshop area to make room for their brand-new boutique Betty and Bill, which sells a mixture of vintage clothes, retro jewelry and spa products as well as handmade items from local NGOs.
Best of all, though is the vision that sparked off their savvy venture – to support young Cambodian students. Is it possible to eat for a better cause?
We were lucky enough to catch up with manically busy Lauren, who willingly spilled the beans (pun intended!) on how it all began.
Lauren and Cassie’s Story…
Lauren (left) and Cassie (right) – The Srey Sisters!
“When we left school, we both followed our mum and aunties’ career paths and jumped straight into hairdressing apprenticeships. Once completed, we travelled Europe together for six months – and that immediately ignited the ‘travel bug’ in the pair of us.
We agreed we wanted to live somewhere new… Where did we plump for? The other side of the world, of course!
For my sister Cassie and I, the prospect of getting working visas and jetting off to the United Kingdom seemed an exciting rite of passage. But what was supposed to be a quick peek of backpacking round South East Asia on the way to our new lives ultimately ended up with us ignoring the call of London, pooling our funds and settling in one of the poorest countries in the region.
Since then, we have thrown ourselves wholeheartedly into all that is Cambodia.
After arriving in Siem Reap with the intention of staying just three days, it soon turned into three months after discovering a poor English school 8km out of town that was run by a Buddhist monk. It turned out to be completely life-changing. These children, who had nothing in the way of material value ended up teaching us more about life than we could ever teach them. We stayed at this school, teaching English to all different age groups and levels of ability from Monday through to Friday.
Finally, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, we ended up tearing ourselves away and jetting to London. But what now seems like virtually the moment our feet hit the ground, we found ourselves booking a flight back to Cambodia.
Neither of us could seem to comprehend the notion of being part in the ‘rat race’ just to get by, when we could actually be working for a cause. So, two weeks later, we were on a flight back to what would soon become ‘home’.
THE GRAND OPENING OF SISTER SREY CAFÉ!
“Within a few months, we had a lease on a property for a café. We’d launched our social enterprise!
It was something we both really believed would give something to Cambodia. Lauren, who is a trained barista in Melbourne, wanted to bring specialty coffee to town, and train and educate the Khmers on how to make a perfect cup – something she’s so passionate about. We also thought we could work with students and provide them with a stepping stone for a brighter future.
We believe that by giving these beautiful people a helping hand with education, a flexible roster, fair pay and continuous training, we are little by little helping them build a brighter future. The team at the cafe are like family to us. They each have their own story and beautiful personality.
At Sister Srey, education is very important. We support them through schooling and university, offering fair pay, and guidance so they can work flexible shifts and still have time for study and to go to school. In Cambodia, this is a rarity. This is a country where, not only do you have to earn money for yourself, you also have to earn it for your parents (there’s no pension in Cambodia). This of course means that the majority of those who want to push their education further – from high school through to University – are forced by necessity to quit at some point in order to support their families.
Six months after opening, the girls also Founded “Hearts to Harmony Foundation” a non Profit Organisation, where 10 percent of the cafes profits go towards. The Foundation enhances the lives of individuals, families and communities by giving them a “hand up” not necassary a “hand out”. This is done through education sponsorships, regular rice drops, health and hygiene workshops, micro businesses, toilet and well builds and bicycle drops.
Our little family here is thriving, and since the cafe has opened we have been fortunate enough to send eight staff members to university, six to high end laugauge schools, our staffs children to private education and made sure all their medical, dental and families are all looked after. Our attend regular Heath, equality and legal aid workshops to make sure they get given every opportunity.
Our staff have also started themselves “helping a friend Project” where once a week they do something for someone less fortunate than themselves. They are driven, motivated and empowered. We couldn’t be more proud of them all!”
And be sure to pay a visit to their café and be part of their dream when you visit Cambodia…
SISTER SREY CAFÉ:
- 200 Pokambor St, Siem Reap, Siemreab-Otdar Meanchey, Cambodia +855 97 723 8001
- Open: Tues – Sun: 07:00 – 18:00 for breakfast, lunch, coffee & beverages.
- Walk-ins welcome. Table service and takeaways both available