March issue 2009

By | Food | Life Style | People | Profile | Published 15 years ago

It was destiny that brought Rabab Zaidi and Tina Mehdi together. During a chance meeting while dropping off their daughters to school, they happened to discover their mutual love for food and their panache for creating new recipes. Before that neither was in any way connected to the food industry: Tina was in paediatrics and Rabab was working in the development sector. But being the foodies they are, they would always discuss and share recipes each time they met, and it was then that they both realised that very few places in Karachi offered healthy eating options as well as take-out places. And so originated the idea behind The Deli, located on Zamzama.

“In Karachi you either have the very high-end restaurants, or you have cheap food. You don’t have anything in between,” says Rabab. With this in mind, the two wanted to open an eatery that was different from the rest, a place that was relatively affordable and also offered quality food. Easy as it sounded, the task was only uphill from this point onwards. “We would get together around 10 p.m., after the children were asleep, and we would spend hours cooking, looking at different cookbooks, writing out recipes,” says Tina.

The initial idea was to offer items such as cold cuts, cold sandwiches and so on. “Here the idea of picking up cold food
and eating it right there and then is still very new and not so readily acceptable. People still want to sit down in a comfortable place and have a good meal,” says Rabab. But how difficult was it to introduce this new concept? “The day before we opened, we suddenly weren’t sure about the concept, but that’s the gamble you have to take,” adds Tina.
When it first opened its doors,

The Deli was more of a take-out place than a sit-down restaurant. Over the course of the two years it has been around, it has expanded its premises and can now accommodate more people. Sure, they’ve progressed from a deli to a restaurant, but that doesn’t mean they’ve deviated from the original concept.

Known for using fresh ingredients as well as indigenous herbs, The Deli has carved a name for itself in the local market. What they don’t offer on the menu are creamy, “desi versions” of pastas, sandwiches slobbered with mayonnaise or other kinds of dressing and food drenched in oil.

According to the two, more difficult than creating a menu and training the staff, were the difficulties they faced while setting up their restaurant. “There are no policies or guidelines to setting up businesses, especially restaurants. So you find out by default once you’ve opened the restaurant. That is when officials demand licences, and start saying we should have gone through this channel or that one. The government does have a booklet on hotels and restaurants but it’s so outdated, that it’s pointless,” says Rabab.

When compared to other well-known cafés and restaurants that have closed down due to competition and the economic crunch, Tina says, “We have definitely felt the pinch. People are more careful when spending and we’re also buying everything at a higher cost which we cannot pass on to our customers.” But they are confident that because they are offering fresh food, and of excellent quality, they will not lose their customer base. And to ensure that they do not compromise their standards, the two are at The Deli every day, overseeing the production and the service. With such committed and strong-willed women at the helm of this business, it is no surprise that it has become a popular joint in the two short years it has been around.