Words by: Sama Nasheed
Photography by: Goatfish Café & Bistro
It is a sunny afternoon when I step into the Goatfish Café & Bistro and the place is completely deserted. Mind you, it’s Ramazan.
Afshan Ashfag, one of the owners of the café steps out of the kitchen and limps towards me, persistent in making sure his domain remained functional, even in his indisposed state. He shakes my hand and we introduce ourselves. Then he bends over and picks up a sole grain of rice lying on the stone floor of the café, muttering to himself. I was impressed. His eyesight was excellent. Even more so, his dedication to keeping the café pristine.
Akmal Shahydh, commonly known as Akko, the co-owner and long-term friend of Afshan, joins us in the cozy reading room the Café is famous for and though my eyes strayed to the bookshelf, I listened with interest to the young entrepreneurs relay the story of how Goatfish Café & Bistro came to be.
They met and became fast friends in 2010 when they were studying at the Faculty of Hospitality in the Maldives and discovered that they were both interested in the industry and that owning and managing a café was a mutual dream. Soon, Afshan moved to New Zealand to pursue his studies and Akko, to Sri Lanka, but they both kept in touch, planning every little detail of their dream eatery via phone calls and texts.
“Discovering delicious dishes and wanting to share that with others fueled the determination to see our dream materialize and we figured we wanted to start early, so we planned the design, the theme, the menu, set up a staff structure and discussed the legal and financial details of the café when we were studying,” says Afshan with a reminiscent smile.
“I tried a different cuisine every now and then and cooked it at home and experimented with the ingredients, keeping in mind what is available in Maldives. I modified recipes to suit the demand and shared it with Akko and we determined what the menu should consist of.”
Once they moved back to Malé City after studies, armed with a solid plan, they acquired the finances and searched for a location, settling for a property in Machangoalhi. The initial stage of opening the café proved to be a challenge as they were attempting to run a business with no prior experience, with Maldivian staff who were both young and inexperienced, themselves. However, they soon adapted and learned to overcome the challenges and afterward, enjoyed a response beyond their expectations.
Afshan and Akko opened the café in 2016 and by late 2017, had acquired the perfect location to shift to and expand their business, thus moving to its current location, nestled comfortably underneath the canopy of the trees of Rasrani Park and the cottage-like interior of H… With a diverse menu of comfort foods and some healthy dishes, the café has become a most sought-after venue for millennials and those wishing to try authentic food.
An expansive space with wooden furniture and whitewashed walls complimented with wall art and shelves of books, knick-knacks, and antiques, the café is a designer’s dream. An open area to the side is decked with a large brick wall and fairy lights hang above, making the space glow after dark. A play area for children, with toys and books to occupy them, is allocated inside with chairs and tables nearby for the parents to sit and enjoy a cuppa or a delicious meal.
The food menu is incorporated with a mix of different cultures, and various drinks such as mocktails, smoothies, and shakes that are perfect for rainy days and humid afternoons, are available as refreshments. They modify dishes according to the customers’ preferences and are always open to suggestions about the improvement of their food or service. Equipped with foreign kitchen staff and young local servers, the café is thriving in the midst of Malé City.
The young entrepreneurs are now working towards expanding their café as they have acquired the two floors upstairs and are converting the upper floors to a BnB. They also plan to open a café in Hulhumalé City in the future and are excited about their plans to multiply their services within the market.