In the crowded bus stand of Sopore, two cousins run a Café that is a statement and a business, report Faheem Mir
A Pheran clad man in his late 60s in a pair of torn shoes is having a chicken biryani in at a modest restaurant in the heart of Sopore town near the bus stand. It is Zero Miles Grill and Café, a new address for the foodies and first of its kind. This old man is a regular here. Every time he visits the restaurant, he gets a free lunch.
The café was set up by two cousins Jibran Khan, 29, and Javid Ahmad Mahroo, 43, on August 16, 2018. Quickly, it caught on well with the youngsters. The reasons for its success are many, but most people attribute its growth to kindness, love, care, and respect that customers receive from the owners. Jibran Khan is a native of Nowpora Bandipora and his cousin Javid belongs to Sopore.
Javaid was into construction business before starting the restaurant. Incidentally, he was the supplier of structural steel to the same building, where his restaurant is now operating.
The place is routinely crowded because of the bus stand but it lacked an eatery. Jibran was also looking for something; the two cousins discussed the idea.
After completing MBA from a Chandigarh University, Jibran started working with an IT Company but left in 2014, because he thought it was not his calling. Always passionate about tourism and hospitality, he returned home and started a tour and travels company.
The 2016 unrest devastated tourism sector. He took his family advice and flew to Dubai where he got a decent job and a handsome salary.
After two years, he returned home for good. With things looking better, he chose to set up his own café. This is where the two cousins got a joint mission – a café.
Apart from being a hardcore entrepreneur, Jibran has a soft corner for less privileged, especially specially-abled people. This liking gave their café a new identity.
They employed specially-abled Saqib, 22 (name changed) as the café’s delivery boy. He delivers orders on his custom made a bike in and around Sopore. Sensitive, Jibran dislikes the use the pictures of his delivery boy.
“I don’t want to hurt his sentiments for my own interest,” Jibran said.
Saqib is a college student and is presently preparing for examinations. He also works as a part-timer with the café.
Saqib spoke greatly about his employer. “I believe Jibran and Javid are not only generating the employment here but are also giving a platform to the specially- abled people around”, Saqib said.
The Café has no parallel in Sopore. Hanging horse cartwheel from the ceiling is one of the three characteristics that people associate with the town. Its ambience is awesome. The staff is friendly and well-mannered. The place boasts of a live-in kitchen fitted with new technologies so that a customer would exactly know as to how his dish is being prepared.
After borrowing from different restaurants, kitchens, the owners have tried to give it a hip look. On entrance’s left-hand corner, there is a book corner boasting books of varied taste. In the right corner is parked an old, Yazdi, a vintage bike of the 1970s, which belongs to Jibrans’s grandfather.
The wall on the left-hand side of the entrance is covered with graffiti with names of the places scribbled on it that Jibran has been to or plans to travel to.
Moving a few steps ahead, the right wall of the café is decorated and designed with replicas of apple boxes to dedicate it to Asia’s second largest fruit mandi at Sopore. The parallel wall is reserved for the artists of the area.
The machines are imported from Italy for better service. It provides a variety to eat and drink including. Interestingly, it offers Mithe Pizza.
The place is mostly thronged by females because of its ambience. “We regularly visit this place not just to eat but to pass some time, gossip, read and learn new things and discuss different ideas,” Lubna, one of the regular’s to the Café said.
“I often bring my children here, so that they can learn new things from Jibran,” Mohammad Irfan, another local said.
One of the outstanding features of the Café is no use policy of plastic.
The youngest of the Café workers is Tufail Ahmed, 17, who works as dishwasher and dreams of becoming a chef one day. “My bosses have promised me that they will help me in realizing my dream,” Tufail said.
Aamir Lone is a well-travelled chef. He has worked with international brands in different cities across India. The staff comprises of seven employees whose salaries range from 2000 to 5000 depending on the positions they are working on.
“A couple of days ago, we were checking the accounts and surprisingly we found that we have given away Rs 3.5 lakh as salary in last six months to our staff,” Javid said.
Apart from experimenting with new culinary items and introducing new dishes, the café has done three workshops from photography to writing skills to cybersecurity, besides giving a platform to young students and budding writers to release and present their books and artwork here. The café has started several book donation camps for poor and needy students also.
Khan still wants few more specially abled people to join him in managerial positions, besides an additional delivery boy. “Our doors are open for all and I would like to request all the people who read it; please spread the word to help specially abled men not to be a family liability,” he said. “The initiative has been responded well. We have offers for the franchise from Hazratbal, City centre, Kupwara, Baramulla, Bandipora and some other parts of the valley.”