On a Wednesday evening two weeks ago, two friendly waiters led a group of 35 people, including businessmen, social entrepreneurs, photographers and film producers, to the grungy upper deck of Lower Parel’s trendy Café Zoe.
There, media professional Mahek Chadha, 23, and political consultant Fatema Pittalwala, 22, were waiting to launch Pour Me Coffee, a monthly discussion group on art, entrepreneurship, politics, literature and theatre, with an expert speaker invited to each meet and a diverse, walk-in audience indulging in stimulating dialogue over free coffee.
On June 17, the three-month-old Café Zoe will also start hosting weekly book club meetings every Sunday, organised by avid reader Delnaz Joshi.
“We don’t want to host just fluffy amateur comics and acoustic bands,” says Tarini Mohindar, 36, co-owner of the café. “We also want to associate with slightly more intellectually stimulating ideas and concepts, for which there are very few spaces in Mumbai.”
Across the city, new restaurants, cafes and even a few bars are offering a whole new set of value-additions in a bid to emerge as hubs to socialise, network and connect over a cause, concern or hobby.
This unique positioning is taking them from the now-clichéd stand-up comedy and live performances to hosting book and gourmet clubs, bartending and mixology workshops, topic-based discussion groups and community meet-ups.
Logistically, such free events without any cover charge create subtle awareness about the food and drinks served at the restaurants in a not-so-forced environment.
In return for offering up its venue and its brew, the café or restaurant earns goodwill, potential new customers, and a brand image.
In search of a unique brand image, Café Zoe also offered its space up as a free venue for a discussion on Mumbai’s changing architectural landscape, organised in May by The Loft art gallery as a preview to one of its exhibitions, and in March to Think Social, a networking group for social entrepreneurs.