Before it became the scene of one of the worst terrorist massacres in Bangladesh’s recent history, the Holey Artisan Bakery was a popular hangout for expatriates and well-heeled locals because of its good food and large, leafy garden in the capital’s toniest neighbourhood.
Shammy Wadud, a TV travel show host who was a frequent visitor to the western-style cafe, told Hindustan Times it drew many people with its “serene environment and hospitality”.
“I used to go there almost every alternative day to hang out with friends. It had become so popular that you had to book a table and wait in queue,” she said.
Holey, which describes itself as the only truly artisan bakery “between Mumbai and Singapore”, opened in June 2014 after Lillian, the wife of one of the owners Nasirul Alam Porag, expressed a longing for good bread. Porag joined hands with Sadat Mehdi and UK-based bread consultant Maurice Chaplais to design the bakery.
After the bakery became a hit with its breads, muffins and croissants, the owners launched the restaurant O’Kitchen on the top floor of two-storey wood-and-stone facaded building. It soon became a hit, thanks to its location at the end of a road facing the Gulshan Lake and its sprawling garden.
The restaurant in Gulshan area, home to many expatriates, diplomats and wealthy Bangladeshis, was also located close to the Nordic Club and the diplomatic missions of Pakistan and Australia. United Hospital, a medical facility frequented by the wealthy, too is located close to the restaurant.
“Many Japanese and Chinese people visited the restaurant regularly, apart from Westerners. Spanish and French people who live here or come here for business visit it,” said Wadud.
“Its coffee was the best in town. It offers Spanish and French food. You will not find the French bread that it offers anywhere else in Dhaka…You come to eat or just have a cup of coffee but you get a very quiet and calm environment as it is situated in front of Gulshan Lake. That was a bonus.”
Many of the restaurant’s staff were foreigners. Porag, who was in Bangkok when the attack began, said Holey employs about 50 staff but 20 were present at the time of the assault.