Shahid's journey from engineer to entrepreneur

He started the market survey with zero expertise, he found the whole of Srinagar was dotted with restaurants and cafes.
Shahid's journey from engineer to entrepreneur
Shahid said that his deep desire to do something based in Kashmir was one of the reasons that he started his café.GK Layout Desk

A breed of young entrepreneurs is revolutionising the food sector in Kashmir. This is the reason that in the past 5-6 years, Kashmir has seen restaurants that go beyond food to add new ideas to the sector.

Shahid Khan, a Srinagar-based young engineer turned entrepreneur is one of such youngsters who has ventured into this field.

His cafe ‘The Black Vintage’ at Radio colony Rajbagh has attracted a lot of attention with his out of box ideas, cultural touch, and quality food.

Shahid said that his deep desire to do something based in Kashmir was one of the reasons that he started his café.

“I have studied and resided outside Kashmir for over 14 years. I had never thought of opening a café here in Kashmir although I had an interest in the food industry. As life took a different turn I thought I have to do something while staying here in the valley,” Shahid said.

He said that around a year back his grandmother fell sick and he had to stay back home and halt all his plans.

“We plan but Allah has his plans. I was very attached to my Grandmother; it was her idea that I do something here without leaving the valley. Otherwise, I had a job and I was associated with modelling. My grandmother who later passed away become the inspiration for me to start the entrepreneurship based in Kashmir,” Shahid said.

He started the market survey with zero expertise, he found the whole of Srinagar was dotted with restaurants and cafes.

“There is a huge competition and I had no expertise. I thought if I don’t give something different to the customers, there is no fun in starting the business. I wanted to keep my café connected with the roots of Kashmiri culture like Poetry, art, handicraft, and other things. If you come to my restaurant, in addition to multiple cuisines you will feel the presence of art and Kashmir culture,” Shahid said. In Shahid’s Café, he has dedicated each table to a Kashmiri poet. Starting from Habba Khatoon, Mehjoor, Lal-Ded, Agha Shahid Ali to Zareef Ahmed Zareef.

“I have made tables from Deodar wood with calligraphy of Kashmir poetry on it. From my wall décor to the setting of my restaurant, I have kept the presence of Kashmiri culture and handicrafts visible everywhere,” Shahid said. Shahid says that he is well aware that, only presenting culture will not attract food lovers and that is why he equally focused on the quality of food and service.

“At my café, the focus is on the hygiene and quality of food. Our Indian, continental cuisine is very much liked by our customers. We do our best to give the best tandoori, Kashmiri kababs, and healthy soups. Our Pizzas and coffee have made their mark in a short journey of 9 months of our restaurant,” he said.

Shahid said that he had no expertise in the business but he never stopped learning. He said that he did a training course and is working as Barista in his café.

“I never shy away from learning and serving. I am using all my expertise. I am a trained guitarist and I don’t even let that talent go waste. I play at my café and try to make my customers happy. It is not that I am boss and I don’t have to work. If I don't give my best I can’t retain my customer base. If my employees are busy, I go and deliver food orders on my own. I have kept a family-like atmosphere with my employees and have provided them all the facilities like accommodation next to my café. This is the reason they give best and I have cultivated a loyal customer base,” Shahid said.

"I also wanted to make my café a hub where people organise cultural events, come to get together with family and friends and learn about food and culture.'

Shahid said that being a newbie in the business, he had to struggle a lot. “There were many people who discouraged me given that I had no experience in it. My ideas were at times ridiculed but I never stopped believing in myself. I struggled in developing a business plan, searching for the best chefs, and then executing the whole idea. I never stopped learning and with my dedication, I grew and now the same people understood and started praising me. I thank everyone who gave me constructive criticism because it helped me to improve. It would not have been possible with the support of my family and friends,” he said.

Shahid said that he used expert opinions from the food industry, and social media to grow. He said reviews from his customers on social media also helped. Shahid has now tied up with online food delivery apps to reach out to all customers. He said that they are also delivering on their own within close vicinity.

Shahid who left his stable job and life outside Kashmir has now grown into a well-established entrepreneur. He said that he started alone and is now providing jobs to others too. Shahid believes that although there is a lot of competition in the restaurant business in Kashmir if one tries to bring good things to the table, he is destined to succeed. He believes that all the new-gen restaurant owners have to be true to their food and give their best to their customers so that they will come back.

Shahid says that people should not give up on any field only because they don’t have experience. He says if people are passionate to learn and deliver with the utmost professionalism, nothing is impossible.

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