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Roadside Mango Vendor Opens Fifth Coffee Cafe

The capital city can expect two more restaurants in the coming months, as The Coffee Hub stamps its mark in Suva. Owner and self-made business leader, Shakil ‘Zoro’ Bhamji, has come a long way from his early days of selling mangoes by the roadside, to the busy life he now lives.
01 Oct 2022 15:30
Roadside Mango Vendor Opens Fifth Coffee Cafe
As The Coffee Hub owner, Shakil ‘Zoro’ Bhamji opens his fourth and fifth coffee cafes, following an expansion from the West to the capital city, he takes stock, after coming a long way from selling mangoes by the Ba roadside

The capital city can expect two more restaurants in the coming months, as The Coffee Hub stamps its mark in Suva.

Owner and self-made business leader, Shakil ‘Zoro’ Bhamji, has come a long way from his early days of selling mangoes by the roadside, to the busy life he now lives.

At the rate of his continued success, the 30-year old barista-cu entrepreneur from Varoko, Ba, has opened one restaurant every year since he launched his first business in 2019.

One by one, he is ticking off his list, a host of personal goals he has proudly achieved.

The Coffee Hub’s presence in Suva – which brings with it a French styled outdoor layout – will raise the bar in the café and restaurant culture, which at best lacks an extensive breakfast menu.

When The Coffee Hub opens along Gordon Street in November, it will offer a full Halal breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, among other highlights.

Located at the corner of Joske and Gordon streets, it replaces Victoria Café – a family-owned steak and seafood grill restaurant – that operated for the past 15 years.

The Coffee Hub McGregor Road Suva will open early next year, in a rustic setting that will feature period furniture.

The new restaurant in Gordon Street brings to Suva a replica of the oasis-themed décor with rattan lampshades that its Nadi café is known for.

Christmas 2019 Zoro established The Coffee Hub Nadi on Christmas Day, 2019, after he purchased the outfit from its previous owner.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when businesses were  closing, and sending workers home, Zoro opened his second and third restaurants in Lautoka, and Ba, respectively.

The Coffee Hub group has over 85 employees based in Nadi, Lautoka and Ba, and looks forward to recruiting 50 new team members for its Suva operations in the coming weeks.

Humble beginnings Raised by his mother and grandmother in very humble beginnings, Zoro was 12 years old when he realized his strength as a budding entrepreneur.

“I came from a very poor background, where I picked guavas, packed it in plastic bags, and walked the streets to sell it,” he said.

“I sold cabbage, going from house to house, to ask if anyone wanted to buy it.

“Today, when I buy a mango, I can tell whether it was wrapped in newspapers, whether it was picked straight off the tree, or from the ground, before it was sold.”

He was just two months old when his father left him and his mother for Canada.

He did not meet his father again.

During his formative years, Zoro nursed high hopes that his father would connect with him, in pursuit of a better place.

“I began looking for my father when I was 15; when I wanted to further my education at university,” Zoro said.

“Like most other families in similar circumstances, I was not readily received by my father’s family, not in the beginning at least.”

A breakthrough Upon his father’s death in 2018, Zoro realised he had only himself to depend on, which set him on a path to create his own future.

He has not looked back since.

Making Zoro Zoro was raised in an environment where people had little confidence in him.

“I grew up being told I would never make it,” he said.

“When I became a barista, people still held a low opinion of me for the nature of my work; they thought we made instant-coffee; there was limited appreciation for the real role of a barista.

“But I fancied my future self as a successful person.”

Success For having come this far, Zoro sits alone on the rare occasion, to soak in all he has achieved.

“I have reached a level where I now ask myself, what is my definition of success,” he said.

In 2010, he finally left Ba for paid employment in the capital city., His first job was in Suva, where he worked for Gloria Jean’s coffee shop.

“Nobody in Ba wanted to give me a job,” he said.

When Gloria Jean’s branched out to Nadi, Zoro went too.

A self-taught barista at the time, he drew from every online lesson.

“One of my strengths has been the curious eagerness to learn, to ask questions when I did not understand, always asking why,” Zoro said.

He moved between coffee shops and international resorts in Fiji, before he landed a job as a flight attendant.

“That was a stepping stone which also secured me visas for Australia and New Zealand, and opened the world of international travel to me,” Zoro said.

“When I finished work as a flight attendant, I was able to travel to New Zealand to be trained as a certified barista” Zoro said.

He returned to provide barista training services for many food and beverage operators across Fiji.

A calling Today, he says he is one of a handful of certified barista trainers in the country.

“It was at that juncture that I knew my calling was in coffee, and wines,” Zoro said.

He turned to pre-loved goods storeswhere he purchased his favourite collection of cups, plates and paintings,

in hopes of using them someday in a café of his own.

“I knew that one day I would have my own little café, and that I would have to do everything on my own to get there,” Zoro said.

With five restaurants to his name, Zoro still refers to The Coffee Hub as a “little café”. Zoro, synonymous with coffee With the help of two past work colleagues and friends, Zoro opened The Coffee Hub Nadi, when he purchased the business on Christmas 2019.

He picked up some discarded furniture from the roadside, which he sent for restoration to use at the now polished and plush Nadi café.

The Coffee Hub made a sale of $38 on its first day.

For a while, it ran on about $50 daily sales.

A $99 oven was used on a caravan like table that was set up in the café kitchen.

The Coffee Hub has since evolved to an astronomical expansion with a massive state of the art kitchen at its Nadi shop.

“We started small, but by the time we did, I had already established my name in the coffee business,” he said.

“Those who knew of good coffee automatically knew me.

“And Nadi at the time definitely needed a Zoro.”

Challenges Zoro recalls the initial days when wholesalers and commercial banks did not support his dream.

“Commercial banks laughed at me; they said I would not be able to achieve the targets I set out,” he said.

“At first, they refused my request for an EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) machine.” Wholesalers declined repeated requests to provide credit terms with him.

“Every day, I had to shop at NEWWORLD supermarket for what the café needed,” Zoro said.

“Tappoo and Vision Beverages were two of the early distributors to provide me with credit terms and marketing support, and have since played a very supportive role in The Coffee Hub.

“We now work with all the key hospitality suppliers and enjoy very strong business relationships within the industry.”

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