Koyla, the legendary open-air rooftop sheesha restaurant in Colaba has opened its second outlet in the city in Andheri. The original Koyla, which is situated near the Radio Club, opened in 2000. It was started by Farhan Azmi (28), who’s father Abu Asim runs the Gulf Hotel in the same building, Kamal Mansion. Aged 18, Azmi started running a canteen at his father’s hotel, offering room service to guests. "I thought that’s a good business. Why not do a small café on the terrace and see the response?"
Inspired by the popularity of sheesha cafés in Dubai, where he had lived for a while, he started inviting friends to smoke sheesha on the roof terrace, sitting at plastic tables and chairs. Then, eight months later, at the end of 2000, he opened Koyla, an 18,000 square feet café seating 600 to 800 in thatched Goan-style canopies. “It was the first official place in India to serve flavoured sheesha,” he states. “At that time there were no CCDs, Mochas and Baristas and very few places to chill, apart from at the Irani cafes.”
The new branch, which has opened on New Link Road, Oshiwara, is smaller at 5,000 square feet, seating just 130 Situated on an open-roof terrace of a former office block, it is a franchise, being run by Hasan Gaffar, a family friend of Azmi. Franchise outlet It is Azmi’s second franchise experiment.
He had opened one in Hyderabad, but it closed down two years ago. “I know franchising has risks, but luckily I have found a guy I can trust. I can’t expand if I try to control everything,” he says. The new Koyla has a separate sheesha section, seating 30, which serves the Al-Fakher range of tobaccos, in the usual flavours of double apple, mint, and strawberry, as well as cappuccino.
Like the Colaba branch, it specialises in north Indian cuisine, such as Dum Pukht, and Murg Malai Kebab, cooked on coal by chefs from the Garhwal region. It too has hut-like canopies, bamboo chairs, lanterns. There is also a low seating area to give diners a feel of the traditional, Indian style of eating. Explaining why he didn’t expand earlier, he says: “I didn’t have the funds, and for several years the rents were ridiculous.
Also, in the interim I opened Café Basilico in Colaba and Bandra.” He admits he spent three years looking for the venue. “It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I could find. I couldn’t hold off expanding just because I was waiting for a location.” He adds he chose Andheri as the middle classes living there now have higher disposable incomes and eat out more frequently.
“Most big companies have shifted out of town and many of our customers in Colaba travel from Andheri. New Link Road is where it is all happening.” He is also planning to start a brand new chain, Chai and Coffee, and to open up a third Café Basilico in Andheri.