In a place like Kashmir where there are no means of entertainment for the youth, the trendy Downtown Cafe is helping people come together and share memories.
In 2016, when Kashmir was simmering with unrest, brothers Suhail and Nadeem Bhat from Pampore, which is some 13 km from Srinagar, were researching for possible startup ideas. After a lot of thinking and hard work, they opened the Downtown Café — one of the largest restaurants of downtown Srinagar.
Located in Gojwara, Downtown Cafe can cater to around 90 people at a time. With an investment of Rs 60 lakh, the furnishing of its three-storied building started in April last year. It took eight months to complete and was inaugurated on November 4, 2017, by Mirvaiz Umar Farooq.
The multi-cuisine restaurant, during its inaugural event, started a promotional offer where free food was served for two consecutive days. The restaurant served seven dishes to around 700 people in two days, following which it got an overwhelming response and became an instant hit.
Nadeem and Suhail initially employed seven people including chefs, waiters and other support staff, but owing to the restaurant’s success, they now employ around 15 people.
Located in a very congested residential part of the old city with hardly any commercial establishments, Downtown Cafe offers various delicacies including the authentic Kashmiri wazwan — the trendiest serving among others on the menu.
Nadeem says that the area where the restaurant is located has witnessed the history of civilisations and has been one of the biggest markets in Kashmir since the time of the Maharajas.
The research the brothers did before starting their venture made them realise that the younger generation in Srinagar wanted a place to hang out; but, there was no such restaurant in the city with enough space for people to go to especially with their families. Downtown Café was started as an attempt to fill this void.
Nadeem says that while many startups in Kashmir focus on setting up western-style cafés, he wanted the theme of the Downtown Café to be rooted in the indigenous culture and cuisine of Kashmir.
“We are getting a positive feedback and our primary focus is to provide best possible food and service to our customers,” said Nadeem.
For the two brothers, their father, who is a contractor by profession, served as the source of inspiration. The restaurant functions on two storeys while the third floor is yet to be opened.
The brothers are planning something unique for the third story which, as per them, will focus on the cultural and traditional aspects of the valley.
With frequent curfews in the region, there are many days in a year when downtown Srinagar remains shut down, and this ultimately hurts the economy. Research told Nadeem and Suhail that despite shops remaining closed due to the unrest, the shopkeepers still made some profit.
The bothers acknowledge that curfews are a part of life in Kashmir.
“There are many challenges in every business; we have this one and if we just keep thinking in terms of shutdown or curfew, we will have to sit at home and do nothing,” said Nadeem
According to Suhail and Nadeem, the restaurant has already served 1,200 tables in a short span of two months. It is not just visited by the natives, but tourists also come and enjoy the local delicacies which include the traditional sweet tea kehwa, with sheermaal (a flat bread), tandoori chicken, soup, etc.
“We hope that the restaurant will also help boost tourism in the downtown area of Srinagar and in Kashmir on the whole.”
The two-month-old restaurant is already witnessing a rush of people; it currently caters 70-90 tables per day.
“Initially we used to close at 7pm, but now despite the cold we close at 9pm,” said Suhail
This is one of the many stories of young Kashmiri entrepreneurs who have opened cafes in Kashmir where there are no means of entertainment for the youth. With this new trendy cafe culture blossoming in Srinagar, people now get to come together and share memories.