Ubuntu Community – The story behind Kolkata’s first vegan cafe

This story is not about veganism. Or about how being vegan can save the world. Or about you can be much healthier if you turn vegan. Or about so many other things every vegan person advocates less than five seconds after you meet them. Instead, it is the story about two guys and a girl from an IT background, a desire to do sustainable business while trying to protect the environment, with a sprinkle of love thrown in the midst.

The first thing that you observe when you enter the cafe, is a sense of peace. It is indescribable. You feel comfortable letting your thoughts slow down and allow yourself to take a deep breath as Buchki, the cat, gives you permission to sit, by moving away from the couch. Time slows down as you settle down and look at their unique menu.

A happy face, Vikash, welcomes us into the cafe and makes us feel at ease. Everyone is laid back and there is no hurry to order. Even when you do order, it takes time to come. I will not talk about the food here. To know more about the food, you can see my review on https://www.zomato.com/sauravm8/. For now, let me continue with the story.

Then we start talking.

Both Vikash from Jamshedpur and Abhinav from Kanpur are from engineering backgrounds. They were living the IT life in Bangalore. But somewhere, they felt that something was missing. It wasn’t really their calling. Both of them individually did research about how they can do something for the environment. As chance would have it, they both decided to interview for the same organization; which paid them as they took the responsibility to look after the local environment. That was the start of them becoming environmentalists and moreover, friends.

However, that is not the start of this story. The story of a vegan cafe starts with a vegetarian turning into a non-vegetarian for the sake of love. Let’s roll the time back a little bit further to 2013.

Abhinav, the vegetarian from Uttar Pradesh, was head over heels for Shreya. The stars had aligned and the feeling was mutual. Unfortunately, there was a huge problem. Shreya was a Bong. Those of you who still have difficulty following me, allow me to elaborate. Asking a bong to be a vegetarian is the same as asking a chain-smoker to chew bubble gum. It just was never going to work out. The ultimatum to Abhinav was, ‘Chicken se dosti kar le, ya mere ko vul ja’ ( I am not quoting him, just expressing the sentiment). But, love is love. So, as it generally happens in a relationship, both of them compromised and they had their first date at a KFC.

Because they were in a live-in relationship, Abhinav became a hardcore non-vegetarian. He started to enjoy it. In his own words – Tasty to tasty hota h. But being an environmentalist by day and enjoying Reshmi Butter Chicken at night made him feel like a hypocrite. But love is love. So life went on with Fish Tikka, Chicken Reshmi, and Tandoori Chicken

A turn in the story came when Shreya moved to Thailand for work. When she did, after a few days of retrospection, Abhinav realized that he didn’t really miss eating chicken. Also, he was finally at peace having been able to leave meat. So, he left non-veg. During the same time, he watched a documentary about how the meat industry and the dairy industry are causing so much harm to the environment. Result? Absolute Shock. Following that an immediate decision to turn vegan.

As it happens in long-term relationships, the life-changing video was shared with Shreya as well. But Shreya was in Thailand. A sea-food paradise. Or, to a bong, paradise. She did not want to let any video get between her and shrimp cocktails! But fate has its own way about things. and Abhinav got a call one night.

Shreya: Ye kya dikha diya?
Abhinav: Dekh liya?
Shreya: Haan. Dekh li.
Abhinav: Accha
Shreya: Ab?
Abhinav: Ab kya?
Shreya: Ab dekh liya to chodna padega. Kyun Dikhaya?
Abhinav: ….
Shreya: ….

It took her six months to finally let go of her favorite Fish Filet Burger of McDonald’s. But she was on board and all in. Fortunately, at the same time, Thailand was also booming in the vegan movement and the mock-meat culture. So, she got to experience it first hand.

The inception of the idea was at a party in Kolkata. A get-together for the vegan community. In attendance were doctors, athletes, businessmen, all of them vegan. All promoting the movement. Abhinav, a pure vegan now, was posted at Kolkata due to his work, so he was at this party as well. Everyone sighed about the lack of a vegan place in Kolkata, but no one was doing anything. Everyone felt Kolkata was not yet ready for something like that, and anyone who would venture into something like that was digging his own grave.

That felt weird to Abhinav. He had more faith in the people of Kolkata to embrace veganism than the natives did. So, he called up Vikash and they created a very intricate and elaborate plan for a survey. Haha, I am just kidding, they started to walk up to people on the streets and ask them, whether they would be interested in such a place or not. Weirdly, they got a positive response. I know! Even I was shocked!

Alright, so the idea was there, the market was there. What next?

1. Understanding how a restaurant works. Abhinav thought what is the city closest to Kolkata for its love for meat and disgust for vegetables? Of course, Hyderabad. So, he cold-called a vegan cafe in Hyderabad and decided to go and work there. Yes, just like that. Following a stint there for three months, he followed up with two more at another place in Pune.

2. Operations, finances, logistics, and how does a business work? Vikash comes from a family with a business background and he bacame the quiet pillar for support there. Also, Abhinav with his experiences could fill in some of the gaps.

3. Food: You can have the best idea. You can have the best market. But if you are opening a restaurant, especially in the city which probably understands food better than anywhere else in the world, you will not sustain yourself as a business. That’s where Shreya, the chef, came in. A passionate set of failed experiments and irritated friends who were treated as guinea pigs later, they have come up with a unique menu, which is not only completely vegan, but damn tasty as well. Kajal, helps them in the kitchen with the experiments and with preparing for the patrons.

With zero plastic-use in their restaurants, old yellow cab seats converted into couches, food wastes used as fertilizers in their garden at the back, these guys have really created a bubble of sustainability and self-sufficiency. Now, they are trying to build a community around that. And people are appreciating them for it.

Is it going to be as famous as Arsalan? I will be disappointed if it does. I hope it does not commercialize like that.

Has it convinced me, a pure non-vegetarian to be a vegan? Maybe not today, but I think it was a positive influence on me.

You talk to much, come to the point. Was the food good? Yeah, I really enjoyed the food! They are doing experiments to bring out Rosogolla next. Definitely going back to try it out.

Abrupt end. Bye.

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