The serene, unsmiling Sardar Buksh, a green-and-white line drawing on the logo of his eponymous coffee kiosk, didn’t begin life in Rajouri Gardens, west Delhi. His (t)urban debut came in May 2015 in Gurgaon, where Rohit Kamboj and team, the cheeky proprietors of this tiny stall, opened to “a really good response,” before circumstances recently forced them to relocate.
They’re now on home ground in this most Punjabi of neighbourhoods, but curiously, they’re listed as “SardasBuksh Coffee & Co.” on Zomato. Rohit insists that there’s no chico(ne)ry at work. “We have received legal communications from Starbucks asking us to drop the name and logo,” he confirms when we call him. “We’ve told them we’re willing to change the logo, not the name.”
Sikh Beat, Bro
Across the border, in a seeming vindication of the two-nation theory, Mr Buksh’s Pakistani cousin is prospering. Sattar Buksh Café began life in Clifton, Karachi in 2013, and has expanded to include a branch in Islamabad. An upmarket parody sometimes boorishly mistaken for a down-market replica, Sattar Buksh first became known in India after they offered a anti-Pak troll some of their “LoC pizza,” half-beef, half-veg.
Sattar Buksh’s locations are tony – Kohsar Road in Islamabad is where TV anchors come to be (even more) seen, and their Karachi neighbourhood is often lovingly mocked as the “Republic of Cliftonia” – but the menu offers both dal chawal and pizza, hoping to make guests comfortable and to laugh at their silly jokes, just like every hospitable Punjabi uncle.
Across the border, in a seeming vindication of the two-nation theory, Mr Buksh’s Pakistani cousin is prospering.
Their parody parent does no business in Pakistan, but Sattar Buksh is no stranger to hot water. “Quite frankly, if we’d created a coffee house with ready-to-buy snacks, we’d be in trouble,” says Khizra Munir, the café’s marketing manager. “Sattar Buksh is more of a sit-down space where chai dominates over coffee, and the food is made-to-order.”
When the team received a legal notice of their own from Starbucks Inc., accusing them of “deceiving” the public, they countered with “a bit of a desi reality check,” contending that only a fraction of Pakistan’s population knew what Starbucks was, “and even then for us to copy their model would be a bad business decision.” This response to US intervention ended with the café altering its logo and emphasising its strong-jawed mustachioed central character to convince the American conglomerate that there would be no mooch-ing off.
Macchiato Darna Kya
We’re happy to report that both Bukshes know and approve of each other, underlining their shared heritage in a way that’s more Star Trek (where else would a character have both ‘Khan’ and ‘Singh’ in his name?) than Starbucks. On a brisk day, Sattar serves you halwa poori and masala tea. Sardar, more experimental, bravely serves up generous cups of “Tirupati blend” and a coffee called “Bangalore’s weather” to their patrons near Rajouri’s Pyara Chicken Corner. (If you’ve ever called it kaapi, you may prefer to stick to Sardar’s other popular offering, a frosty, nutty Nutella shake.)
Even the most liberal of coffee chains may endorse some form of border control, but Rohit seems unperturbed that his drinks will be spilled by a flat white wave, and by Khizra’s account, Sattar is thriving. We wish them both luck, and hope khuda will buksh them.
Getting there: SardasBuksh Coffee & Co., Vardhman Plaza, Rajouri Garden, Delhi, call +917834848486, opens daily at 5 pm. Sattar Buksh Café, F 73/1, Clifton Block 4, Karachi, call +923075805912, opens daily at 11 am.
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