The man behind the Barista

  • Ink Correspondent
  • Publish Date: Aug 24 2017 8:33PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Aug 24 2017 8:33PM
The man behind the Barista

Sajid wants to focus and help create the infrastructure to kick-start the big change in the hospitality sector in Kashmir


A sense of achievement reflects from his voice the moment he talks about his life that saw him venturing out as teenager in different parts of Valley amid bullets and bomb blasts during the perilous nineties to shoulder his family’s traditional trade.

Next, he fondly recalls those countless Valley-wide rides in KMD buses to help sustain the trade when the going was tough. Then a Class 9th student shouldering his family business as an only ‘responsible’ son, he was dreaming to become an hotelier when most of his classmates wanted to become doctors, engineers.

Years later, as he became the first man to introduce the boutique hotel and the coffee brand Barista in Kashmir, the dream he dreamed stands fulfilled.

Inside his Rajbagh coffee outlet, Sajid Farooq Shah, 40, sits smiling amidst the mounting footfall of customers. The coffee brand Barista lately came up in the city to delight of coffee aficionados. As the chatter over coffee grows, Sajid speaks of his life and idea that paved way to Barista in Kashmir.  

“Whenever I would go outside the Valley on business trips,” says Sajid, wearing big expressive eyes over his brooding cum bright face, “I always visited the Barista outlets as I liked their coffee.” Deep down, he always knew that whenever he would be starting a coffee outlet in Srinagar, it would be Barista.

On July 4, 2017, when Greater Kashmir’s Editor-in-Chief, Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo in presence of civil society members inaugurated Kashmir first 26-seater Barista outlet in Rajbagh, Sajid stood smiling in the cheerful crowd. It was the fulfilling life moment for this determined hotelier who loves innovation over status quo in Kashmir’s hospitality sector.

The coffee brand he introduced in Kashmir is the chain of espresso known for delivering an Italian coffee experience in “warm, friendly and relaxed environment.” With over 200 Barista Coffee Espresso Bars and Barista Coffee Crèmes in over 30 cities across India, the brand, Sajid says, provides a comfortable place for people to unwind over interesting conversations and a cup of coffee.

“The idea was to introduce a customised tailor-made menu at the Barista Srinagar,” says Sajid, whose ‘love for labour’ is already the talk of the town. In a first, his outlet offers different types of Kebabs to suit the local taste besides Indulgent Coffee, Lemonades, Hot Classics, Cold Coffees, Iced Teas, Smoothies, Mojitos, Chocolate Fudge, Espresso Shot and Whipped cream.

“For every community,” he says, “there should be one such coffee outlet.” And in this regard, he wants to throw open many more Barista outlets at different places in Srinagar.

But before Barista happened to him, Sajid was one of those stubborn souls around who loves to create ‘order out of chaos’. As an informed native who grew up as a street-smart in Downtown Srinagar, he doesn’t whine over the bad situation and blame it for the ‘doomed private sector’ in Valley.

“I believe if you know what you are doing, then nothing can stop you,” reckons Sajid, calling himself a strong antagonist of the notion that Kashmir has nothing for businessman or corporate houses. “This attitude is problematic and equally troublesome is the myth that ‘nobody wants to come to Kashmir for business.’ Had it been a case, then brands like HDFC or Reliance wouldn’t have been working here or doing great business for so long now.”

Today, he says, if you have a concept, none can stop you. “For that to appreciate, we must rise above disappointments in life,” he says.

With this belief, Sajid has created his own niche despite being son of the prominent wholesale footwear distributors of Downtown Srinagar having some 500 odd dealers across the Valley.

It was his grandfather Ghulam Mohammad Shah who first brought a footwear stock from Rawalpindhi and introduced it for the first time in Kashmir markets in 1931. Those were the first covered shoes that Kashmiris knew, he says. “Before that Kashmiris would only wear pulhoewr.”

Over the period of the time, their footwear shops at Lal  Chowk – United Footwear and Comrade Boot House – flourished with a single belief: service to trade. “Most of the big footwear brands were introduced in the local market by us,” he says.

In 1992, Sajid, as a Burn Hall boy, saw most of his friends moving foreign to escape the security brunt. Despite having such an option and will to go, he stopped. He heeded to his father Farooq Ahmad Shah’s advice that ‘out of chaos, one can always create an order in life.’ It was a right call, he says.

However, with Kashmir passing through the military nightmare then, the teenage Sajid would sit in KMD buses at Batamaloo to travel to different parts of the Valley for business. Along with trade, he simultaneously did his graduation in Commerce from Srinagar’s Islamia College.

Years later, the hard work paid off. Their traditional business flourished. But after some time, he wanted to focus on his childhood dream: to be an hotelier.

With the money he earned from his traditional business for ten years, he started constructing a boutique hotel — a stylish small hotel which typically has between 10 and 100 rooms and is situated in a fashionable urban location — at their ancestral piece of land in Rajbagh in 2007. “It was a difficult decision,” he says, “because starting a new venture involves lot of risk.” But he happily took it to fulfil his dream.

By 2010, the hotel Comrade Inn started functioning to his delight. He soon diversified and started developing City’s commercial spaces with an aim to provide better working environment for youth. Infact, he attributes the post-2010 boom in boutique hotels in Srinagar to his venture.

Today, Sajid wants to focus and help create the infrastructure and real estate to kick-start the ‘big change’ in the hospitality sector in Kashmir. “As I see it,” he says, as the rush inside his outlet builds, “the right infrastructure building is the right sign to achieve the best in the business.”