After a successful start in the tourism business, Ather Yameen Narwari thought of introducing Middle East cuisines in Kashmir and his dream was fulfilled with the launch of Alif - The Café in Srinagar.
“Having been in the tourism sector from 2004, I have gained a good amount of experience in running the business in Kashmir. But the situation since 2019 has been tough; Alif café was inaugurated in 2019 a month before the reading down of special status of J&K, which was followed by two subsequent lockdowns due to Covid. But despite this scenario, our business has shown a positive response.”
Ather who is owner of Alif- The Cafe and Director Earth Explorers Travel and Tours Private Limited says that his transition from tourism business to food business was due to the uncertainty which the tourism sector faces. “I wanted to diversify my business, there was a natural interconnectivity between tourism and food business. Most of the tourists who visit Kashmir love to taste cuisines prepared here.”
“But at the same time, I wanted to introduce something which is new, wazwan, pizzas serving restaurants in Kashmir are everywhere, but my thought was to introduce Arabian food that is why the restaurant is named Alif which derives its origin from Arabic. Besides there is a good amount of population in Kashmir who travels to Middle East countries and relishes food there, so they were my main target clients. But with the grace of Allah, there has been a good response, both from locals as well as expats living in middle east countries.”
What do you think about the prospect of food business in Kashmir? Ather says that there is no dearth of talent and opportunities. But one thing is that before starting any business, one should work in that line of activity so as to understand the nitty-gritty of the particular sector.
“Unfortunately what we witness in Kashmir is that many people are venturing into the food business without any research which leads to losses. We see many people who start their business with pomp and show and end up in losses due to the fact they have not studied and researched their line of activity.”
“Besides there is a need to implement ease of doing business on ground in letter and spirit. For starting a food outlet businessman has to seek slew of permissions from different government departments which takes months. I have personally gone through it. There is a need to bring all permissions under a single roof so that people wanting to invest don’t suffer.”
You have been operating a travel business, now a food business. What is the difference between these two lines of activities? Ather replies that these sectors are interconnected. When tourists visit Kashmir they relish food here which automatically results in an increase in business not only in the food sector but in several other allied sectors.
Tell us about your journey in the tourism sector? Ather says that the tourism sector has taught me a lot. “My father has been in the tourism sector for the last 46-years and I started my journey in 2004, it took me a lot of time to develop contacts, establish business. Same was my thinking when I ventured into the food business; I was fully prepared that it will take time for this business to earn profit."
“ During the last three years, tourism business has suffered a lot, but this time there is a good response from tourists as most of the foreign destinations are shut due to Covid which has resulted in a good number of visitors visiting Kashmir. But out of total tourists travelling to Kashmir, the majority are high-end who don’t use services of travel companies, rather they deal with booking, ticketing themselves, which has left travel agencies high and dry. However, the tourism sector is on a revival path and we are hopeful that in the coming day’s situation will further improve.”
Any advice for young entrepreneurs? Ather said “We know the ground situation, where there are hardly any opportunities in the government sector. That leaves the private sector which has not fully flourished in Kashmir. Therefore in this scenario self employment is the key to curb unemployment. Entrepreneurs have to show big heart, work hard with dedication and have patience. Success can’t be achieved in a day. It is an idea which works between success and failure in a business. To become a successful entrepreneur, one should have self-belief. ”