Take a bow, Zoe
EXCLUSIVE -- After eight years of service, Todi Mills' favourite all-day cafe and bar shutters on September 30, with a month of celebrations. The owners relive the glory days
One of the frames on a wall of cafe Zoe is a picture of the space when friends Jérémie Horowitz and Tarini Mohindar saw it the first time. The light hits the roof and illuminates the empty plot, with high arches and beams holding it strong. This was 2011.
Horowitz had been living in Mumbai since 2006, and after a stint in the diamond business was looking to open a neighbourhood restaurant and bar. Mohindar, an advertising professional, who he met through a common friend, didn't have a background in hospitality, and was also looking for a change. "We got a good feeling about it and gave a token amount. I went home and panicked! I called Jérémie at 6.30 am the next day, asking him whether we had made the right decision," she recalls.
Eight years on, it's perhaps safe to say it was no mistake. The erstwhile silk mill in the industrial estate at Todi Mills serves as a cozy space for the aloof bibliophile, busy officergoer grabbing a working lunch, jazzy evening soirées and a high-energy night scene vibe when the dimmed yellow bulbs came on.
But come September 30, and cafe Zoe will see its last service. "When our lease for the space came up, we felt it was time to take a break. The restaurant industry is in the midst of a change. There are 140 restaurants in one square kilometre radius but the number of guests has not increased," rues Mohindar, to which Horowitz adds, "The Metro work is an another woe!"
"While our day-time customers are loyal, the night service has taken a hit. It is natural for people to try new places; the list of options is endless," says Mohindar.
But all is not lost. The duo will be setting up a delivery kitchen in the same neighbourhood, run by the existing team on a profit-sharing basis. It opens in the first week of October. "For now, we want to step back, refresh and revitalise. If cafe Zoe returns, it will be in a smaller format," she reveals.
The duo had roped in Ayaz Basrai to make aesthetic structural changes to retain the industrial charm of the silk mill. Cafe Zoe was inspired by a sassy pin-up girl of the '60s, and opened in January 2012. At that time, Blue Frog and Zinc were other popular haunts in the same compound.
Viraf Patel came on board, first as chef consultant and later, as partner to create a classic menu. "I wanted to showcase high-quality ingredients where patrons could savour easy European fare without having to break the bank," shares Patel, who parted ways in January 2018, adding, "Sadly, my push for expansion resulted in a push back from the partners, so I moved on." The quality and pricing was meant for the diner to be able to drop by every day of the week. "It wasn't a formula. It was food that my heart agreed to as a chef," he explains.
Serve and smile
Horowitz remembers picking up an order for Table No F7. "I went to the table, placed the dish and said, 'This is for you, F7.' They gave me a confused look! On my first day off, I was at the Four Season's brunch, and a few drinks down when I got a call from the restaurant saying the server had crashed. Poor Tarini had a field day!"
Mohindar recalls a moment when they realised that they had created something special. "I vividly remember Jérémie was DJ-ing, and I was standing beside him in the console. The place was packed and buzzing. We looked at each other, and in that one moment we realised we had managed to pull off our dream. It was a moment of pride and bewilderment."
Cafe Zoe interestingly never hired bouncers, nor did it witness brawls. "The only two people who fight are us," they laugh. "The first fight was on whether we should use white for the wall next to the bar or leave it naked. We drove back together but didn't talk to each other on the way!" recalls Mohindar.
Mohindar's eyes well up when we ask her what it is that she will miss. "I am so used to seeing Jérémie every day. Now, I will have to make a plan!" to which Jérémie quickly replies, "I am sure we will find something to fight about." And, there is another round of laughter.
Curtain call gigs
September 20: Stranger & Sons will present Ziziland Series
September 21: Cafe Zoe meets crazy Bollywood — the improbable match will be presented by the Hennessy & Chandon team
September 27: The cafe Zoe LIVE Funk and Disco send-off. Curated by Abhinav Khokhar
September 29: M.Mat vs SpaceJams: East meets West disco get down
September 29: Surprise closing brunch
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