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Combining art with cuisine: Rizvi’s food that stimulates imagination

Being an artist from an early age, it was always one of the things of Rizvi to be an art promoter. He has held a number of art exhibitions.
Srinagar | Posted : Jul 18 2017 1:33AM | Updated: Jul 17 2017 11:36PM
Combining art with cuisine: Rizvi’s food that stimulates imagination
GK Photo

An avid artist after opening a number of art ventures, Syed Mujtaba Rizvi entered, right now Kashmir’s most in vogue, cafe business with co-founding of Goodfellas in 2016 on the iconic Bund in Srinagar and made it one of the most happening places in the city.  

Now, Rizvi, 29, takes an exit from Goodfellas Café and moves on to another new co-venture - The ZeroBridge Fine Dine - and is all set to establish it as another local brand with his creativity, passion, and skills – while he continues his other projects as an artist.

From having started Kashmir Art Quest – a contemporary arts foundation, to creating Gallerie One - a centre for Contemporary Arts and Research in Kashmir, Rizvi held his first exhibition at the age of 15 and his biggest struggle at that point of time was to convince people around him that something like that needed to be done.

He believes in multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary way of seeing things. He studied engineering in college and went to study Management of Innovation at the Goldsmiths, University of London, where he also studied Fine Arts as an extension degree.

Being an artist from an early age, it was always one of the things of Rizvi to be an art promoter. He has held a number of art exhibitions.

“In 2015, I did a show in Delhi in partnership with a Kashmir-based event management company, and a Delhi-based gallery, Engendered - the exhibition was also a fund raiser for 2014 Kashmir flood victims. We showed work by 36 artists. The exhibition was the first ever consolidated show of contemporary art from, about, and for Kashmir. It was a huge success,” says Rizvi.

But what made him interested in the food business? Cuisine is also part of culture.

It was during the exhibition in Delhi that Rizvi received a text from his cousin in Srinagar, which became a trigger for him to enter the cafe business.  

“He told me about this space which belonged to our grandfather and had been lying vacant. We decided to be partners and start something of our own. Ali and I partnered to create a cafe that we named Goodfellas, after the famous Hollywood movie, but my idea was to disrupt the industry.”

Being an innovation management consultant, Rizvi had his own idea. “The baseline was how do I merge my work, experience, education, and interest as an innovation management consultant, an artist and an arts promoter with this new venture which is food and hospitality that we had decided to start,” says Rizvi.

The slogan of Goodfellas is: ‘A space that inspires imagination’. “We wanted Goodfellas to be more than just a place where people go to eat and drink and leave. We wanted it to be a place where people come together as a community, where some sort creative ideation takes place, a space that inspires imagination,” he says.

Goodfellas has been a hot spot for artists, journalists, writers and other such people since then. The place itself is an inspiration. “If we were to enter the hospitality or the cafe industry, we thought about how to build a brand which brings a completely new meaning and the fresh take,” Rizvi goes on. “The brand is always overarching of the idea. Goodfellas was conceived as a place for art, where you can come, relax, read a book and engage with different art works and it would also be a platform for young talent and diverse events.”

When asked about the ambience of Goodfellas and how he designed the place, Rizvi said, “I treated the space itself as an art installation, that is not only deep-rooted in rich architectural heritage of Kashmir, but would also showcase works by different artists from time to time. I ensured that we remove all the facades that had been added to the structure over the years and reveal the original architecture and materials of the space, and then add only those elements that complement and add meaning to the beautiful 150-year-old structure. We regularly hosted various events and sessions on art, poetry, politics, culture, architecture, women-empowerment, gaming etc. We created this idea that cafes could also become hotspots for different events. We experimented with the menu and also how we served it. We re-introduced the ethnic clay pottery and created a fusion of local and international cuisine. Even the menu has been changing in line with our motto of "New and exciting things all the time, Surprises every day.”

The place offers good and different oriental food and the rates are very reasonable. “Even with the food, we have been experimenting with the menu. We tried to introduce different cultures. Our menu keeps changing from time to time. We serve food from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, and even that has a certain thought to it,” says Rizvi.

Rizvi is now going to take an exit from Goodfellas Cafe and has moved to the venture of ZeroBridge Fine Dine Restaurant and Cafe. “Conceptually, Goodfellas has achieved what I intended to do – now other cafes have also emerged that are more than just places of business,” he says.

ZeroBridge Fine Dine is headed by Rizvi as the CEO and co-founder of this joint venture by three young entrepreneurs in the hospitality sector. “ZeroBridge Fine Dine aims to raise and set new benchmarks in the hospitality sector and create a thriving space for locals and tourists alike. ZeroBridge will also be promoted as a hotspot for cultural activities through various events, where we aim to engage a larger audience. It will also be a platform to promote young talent,” he says.

ZeroBridge Fine Dine is part of the historic old Zero Bridge on River Jhelum, originally built by then Prime Minister of Kashmir Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad in ’50s. The bridge has been redone in its traditional form and thrown open to public as a recreational walkway.

While managing this new venture, Rizvi’s first love still remains the art and for that he is working for an upcoming art project, Srinagar Biennale International.

For Rizvi, the best award is his relationship with the people and their trust, which he gained working over the years.”