“A cafe where not just coffee, but stories brew.”
Something about that cogitation sets off a spark plug in my mind as Richa Sharma, an entrepreneur, and I settle into a conversation.
Richa says she grew up in a small town, her early years full of hardships with the occasional impecuniosity after her father passed away when she was just a year old. Raised by her mother who took on the role of a single parent, Richa was limited in her surroundings, but never her mind.
After her education in microbiology, she decided to pursue an MBA, wanting to explore the world of business. But three days into her first semester at Symbiosis, Pune, her mother forced her to return home. And as if things couldn’t get worse, she got married in the first year of her postgraduate studies.
Richa then decided to join her husband’s IT firm and explore the world of business herself—and that changed everything.
“I got to travel the world when I was working at the IT firm…got to see small towns and metro cities, perceive the world of business through my eyes,” she says.
And it was on these endeavours that she realised something that would go on to become the bedrock of her startup.
“This period when I was travelling the world helped me realise why it is said that people from small towns don’t have that charm or growth mindset. My mother hauled me back from Symbiosis, Pune, because she was insecure—typical mentality of people from Tier III cities,” she quips.
“I realised it’s never about education or talent…it is about the lifestyle of meeting new people, pitching your ideas, sharing creative thoughts, listening to stories of success and failure, reading books that truly make the difference. Tier II and Tier III cities don’t have community spaces that enable these interactions.”
A bibliophile with a palate for good coffee, in 2017, she set up The Book Cafe (TBC) in Jodhpur.
Not your ordinary cafe
While books and coffee are a big part of, they are not the only thing the venture is about.
More than a place for people to sit and read books over a nice cuppa, The Book Cafe is a community-building space that hosts networking events, talks, interactions and just general rendezvous for youths, women entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, writers, poets, stand-up comedians, bloggers, YouTubers, photographers—basically anyone who has something interesting to say.
The idea is to get people talking about things, expose them to newer cultures and subcultures, and do all this in the learning-oriented environment of a book cafe through book launch events, artist performances, educational workshops, product showcases, etc., Richa says.
Coffee is also a strong hook for the venture.
Cafes in smaller cities and towns tend to offer very basic, or, at best, slightly premium coffee because they don’t believe people there would value craft coffee. But that’s a wildly incorrect assumption, the founder says.
The Book Cafe not only offers craft coffees, but also home specialty brews that use manual brewing processes, like a syphon, aeropresses, pour-overs, and nitro brews, which the startup’s other co-founder and coffee aficionado, Faaez Mohammed, personally oversees.
Business model and future plans
A profitable startup, TBC makes its revenue from food and beverage sales, as well as from the events it hosts.
Barring the COVID-19 lockdown years, Richa says the company has grown 5X, and served 20,000 unique customers. The venture was started with a personal investment of Rs 10 lakh, after which the company raised a round from Marwari Catalysts.
Richa says she’s currently in conversation with venture capitalists to raise more funding.
Currently present in Jodhpur with two franchise outlets and a flagship store, TBC hopes to expand into Tier II and Tier III cities like Udaipur, Pali, Surat, Vadodara, and Ahmedabad next, and then deepen its presence in Bharat.
The cafe has 4.3 stars out of 5 on Google. Its competitors include other artisanal cafes such as Blue Tokai and Third Wave Coffee, which also have a community angle to them and are present or expanding into non-metro cities.
From D2C coffee startups to specialty, artisanal cafes, the Indian coffee market has grown substantially over the last five years. Valued at $1.46 billion in 2021, the Indian specialist coffee market—the 10th fastest growing in the world—is expected to reach $2.03 billion by 2025, according to a Mordor Intelligence report.