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The importance of having breakfast, its good business: Patel


Café Zoe in Mumbai’s central business district of Lower Parel gets an early start with a  popular breakfast set-up. Viraf Patel as both head chef & partner, was firm about serving the dawn crowd says Bhisham Mansukhani.

1. Why does Cafe Zoe attach considerable importance to breakfast?

Breakfast, for me is the most important meal of the day. It is or at least should be the first meal of the day and sets the tone for the day, the energy level and the appetite for the rest of the day. We wanted to start with a full-fledged breakfast menu since Zoe launched rather than in a piecemeal fashion so it was eggs, waffles and the works from the get go. Taking a piecemeal approach would have made breakfast seem like an afterthought, which for us, it clearly isn’t. We take breakfast seriously.

Moreover, I’m also struck by how breakfast has been underrated in this city and how Mumbai has astonishingly few early morning breakfast options. In fact, I’m not sure if there were options for morning people for a continental breakfast outside of five-star hotels until we set the ball rolling.

2. So how does early morning breakfast at Cafe Zoe work and what are its challenges?

We welcome guests from 07.30 hrs. A staff member comes in at 05:30 hrs. to prep the kitchen and coffee machine. Here in lies the challenge since we’re open as late as legally possible, so we’re almost running two parallel staff shifts to sustain the breakfast operation. Our breakfast service is fairly well settled now; it is available from 07.30 till 17:00 hrs. The only ongoing challenge not just for breakfast, but to sustain the overall menu, is access to good quality international and local organic produce. The demand, industry-wide is outstripping supply and remains, far and away a most imposing challenge for the restaurant segment on the whole.


3. What’s the response been like?

The word got out that we have an early & elaborate breakfast menu, the numbers and diversity of the morning crowd are superb. We get early morning risers, joggers and walkers coming in from the nearby race course and white collar folk either picking up breakfast on the go or having their first working meal of the day. I was also surprised to have office folk bring in their birthdays over an early breakfast rather than at night. That’s an interesting trend that emerged as a result of our early breakfast and could well be a lasting legacy.

4. Given your breakfast success in what is essentially an all-day diner, do you think the restaurants are missing out on an important revenue option?

The ‘timings’ set piece is outmoded, for sure. Most urban diners have unpredictable schedules and as such don’t stick to a fixed routine and by extension. They have come to expect to be able to walk in and lunch at their favourite restaurant at 16:00 hrs. An all-day diner is designed to serve this profile. Restaurants that typically close their kitchen at 15:00 hrs., can’t. So, all-day diners are now considered as a given by urban diners though that being said, there are pros, cons and challenges for both options.

Fast Facts

Total covers & APC: 150, INR 1,500/-. Breakfast covers & APC: 25 & INR 500-550/-.
Breakfast menu: A la carte – 17 food & 10 juice options. 

5. How would you define your approach to cuisine and diners?

Cafe Zoe is all about the about the triumvirate of a café, bar and brasserie. Each of these elements not just complement but enhance each other, keep the guest interested and at feeling at home.

We have created a space and a culture that encourages people to feel at home, relax and linger for long. We have also constantly engaged guests with breaks from convention with our ‘One Night Stand’ concept that allows amateur chefs to step into the kitchen for one evening. We also host curated wine dinners and theme nights; the most recent one was based on super heroes.

L-R: Viraf Patel, Jeremie Horowitz & Tarini Mohindar.

L-R: Viraf Patel, Jeremie Horowitz & Tarini Mohindar.

I believe in simple food. I place accent on organic and seasonal produce rather than on fusion and tinkering with classical European cuisine. That doesn’t go anywhere for me. Neither do I believe in ‘all you can eat’ buffets and brunches. Value is to be had in quality and consistency rather than quantity which invariably commodifies rather than celebrate food.

Also, relative to pricing benchmarks, our menu is modestly price which is key to making our food accessible and bringing the guest back. There’s a fine balance between sustaining the restaurant and making it accessible. We’re always on that journey.

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