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The RJ Who Brewed Her Dream

Wafa Vakil's Cafe Liberty is a blend of passion and entrepreneurship
12:00 AM Apr 23, 2024 IST | Irfan Raina
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In a notable departure from traditional roles, women are venturing beyond the confines of their home kitchens to make significant contributions to the hospitality industry. Cafe Liberty, a beloved Cafe cum Restaurant nestled in the heart of Srinagar, exemplifies this trend. Owned by Wafa Vakil, one of Kashmir's pioneering female RJ, Cafe Liberty stands as a testament to her entrepreneurial spirit and culinary passion.

Wafa's journey from being a radio jockey to a cafe owner reflects her determination to pursue her dream. Notably, Cafe Liberty draws its name from the eminent Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali, who shares a close bond with the Vakil family.

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"The idea of opening this cosy cafe wasn't something that just popped into our minds one day," Wafa Vakil reminisced. "For years, my husband and I would find ourselves daydreaming, and meticulously planning every little detail - from the decor and ambience we envisioned to the menu offerings that would set us apart."

She continued, "Having our quaint cafe wasn't merely a fleeting thought; it was a long-cherished dream we carefully nurtured over lengthy discussions spanning many evenings. We wanted to create a warm, inviting space that celebrated our culture and brought people together over delectable treats and aromatic beverages."

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With a proud smile, Wafa added, "Finally, in 2018, after years of strategising and preparing, we took the plunge and worked tirelessly to transform our vision into reality. The result is this beautiful cafe, nestled in the heart of Srinagar's bustling Alijan complex, a true labour of love that we believe is one of the city's most enchanting gems."

"We pour our hearts into every aspect of this place, from the carefully curated decor that pays homage to our rich heritage to the mouthwatering flavours we lovingly craft in our kitchen. This cafe is a manifestation of our shared passion and years of dreaming - it's far more than just a business; it's an extension of ourselves."

"Looking back, I can vividly recall the moment the seed for Cafe Liberty was planted," Wafa Vakil mused nostalgically. "During one of our many heart-to-heart conversations, I confided in my husband, Khawar Jamsheed, that aside from my fulfilling career as a radio jockey, the only other pursuit I could envision for myself was running a cafe – a haven where people could not only savour delectable food but also bask in a relaxed ambience, surrounded by books and engaging conversations."

Wafa's eyes sparkled as she continued, "To my delight, Khawar revealed that he had already secured the perfect space for such a venture. Initially, I entertained the idea of juggling both roles – continuing as an RJ while simultaneously overseeing the cafe. However, as we immersed ourselves in the process of bringing Cafe Liberty to life, I quickly realized that this wasn't a mere side project; it demanded unwavering dedication and a full-time commitment."

With a resolute nod, she added, "In 2019, I made the bold decision to bid farewell to my flourishing career as a radio jockey, where I had risen to the esteemed position of Program Head at Big FM Srinagar, hosting shows across Srinagar and North India. This dream project, our labour of love, deserved my undivided attention and passion."

Reflecting on the challenges that lay ahead, Wafa's expression grew pensive. "Our journey has been fraught with obstacles, from the tumultuous circumstances that arose after the abrogation of Article 370 to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, which forced us to temporarily shutter our doors. Yet, through it all, our unwavering determination and love for what we've created have kept us persevering."

Her radiant smile returned as she concluded, "Cafe Liberty is more than just a business; it's a manifestation of our shared vision, a sanctuary where people can nourish their minds, souls, and appetites in equal measure. Every triumph and trial has only strengthened our resolve to create an oasis of warmth, culture, and culinary delights in the heart of Srinagar."

Fostering a positive environment for restaurant employees Wafa Vakil understands the importance of having a dedicated restaurant team that is passionate about their work day in and day out. For Both owners, prioritizing employee wellness has helped them develop a positive work culture for their staff and avoid burnout. Wafa said they have been able to maintain the quality and standard of the goods served in Cafe Liberty since its start.

Wafa said that it has been a great learning experience for me throughout this journey so far. “ I was completely from a different place and profession that had no connection with the Cafe and Restaurant business, however, what’s been so helpful for us is communication,” Wafa said. “Communicating frequently with my staff works, and it works both ways.”

To keep communication open, Wafa schedules calls with her entire Cafe team often. She uses this time to hear feedback and share ideas.

Wafa says that the great thing about having such a business set up is you meet and see many people regularly and this helps one to remain energetic and refreshed with a lot of learning experiences.

Wafa believes that people mostly come for food at restaurants, adding that this Cafe has been built with a lot of passion and love.

" Cafe Liberty fulfils one's passion and dream," Wafa said.
Wafa said that Cafe Liberty has a seating capacity of 80 people with comfortable seating.
Besides serving good food at Cafe Liberty, the place has an ambience and setting. It has a vintage which gives the visitors a refreshing experience.

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