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The Sweetest Thing

Dessert Directory is love at first sight. The doors open to a pretty little café in a French setting, with white dominating the décor, a beautiful French scene mural on the front wall and Disney music playing in the background. I went during daytime so the sunlight peeking through the windows, done up in green, was giving the Parisian dessert boutique a sunny, happy vibe. Vintage tea cups hanging down from a chandelier instantly caught my eye- marshmallow bouquets and macaroons towers in pastels (fake but look almost edible) used for the decoration allow you to devour a little slice of France right here in Lahore.

Word for Caution: The process of choosing  which dessert to go for is a tough one- each one of those attractive bad boys sitting behind a glass shelf calls you towards them with great force and demands that you get into some serious binging right away. So, you need a lot of strength of character to make a smart, sane choice.

We talked to the three owners of Dessert Directory; Amer Randhawa, Moniba Randhawa and Khadija Shafqat, to learn a little more about them, and the cafe, while gobbling down a heavenly piece of carrot cake and sipping on the refreshing Mint Chiller. Here’s what the partners had to say.

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When did you first decide that the restaurant/café business is the business you want to be in?

Amer: We started off with Prime Edibles in 2012 and were working from home initially. Khadija, an NCA student back then, and I were friends and I loved her skill at modeling and carving clay. So we decided to take her skill to the kitchen, that’s when she and Moniba, my sister, started experimenting with desserts and making them look and taste incredible. One of our first items was fruit bouquet which was an instant hit. Having gained enough experience and clientele over the next 4 years, we decided to launch a commercial project by the name of Dessert Directory in 2016.

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 How did you come up with the concept on which Dessert Directory is run?

Moniba:  Well, it is a pretty original concept and we haven’t seen it elsewhere! Keeping in mind the dedication the Lahori’s have for ‘meetha’, we knew that the market was missing out in a specialized dessert bar. Ansd with the help of Khadija’s final MBA project, which was based in the idea of desserts by which different vendors under one roof, we decided this is the idea we want to go ahead with.

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 Do any of you supply desserts for DD?

Moniba:  DD is run and owned by Prime Edibles and our customers love our stuff so it was unfair if we did not have ourselves as a vendor! So yes, we stock some desserts under the Prime Edibles banner. We have a kitchen at the premises and before we open up the café, we make our desserts right here every morning.

What is you educational background?

 Moniba:  BSc Hons Information Systems & Management from University College Lahore and MBA Marketing from Lahore School of Economics

Khadija:  Bachelors in Ceramic Design from National College of Arts and MBA Luxury Brand Management in food and wine from INSEEC, France

Amer: BSc Hons Information Management from University College London

What inspired you to have a French setting/décor for the café?

 Khadija:   Being familiar with the latest concept of sensorial gastronomy, we wanted to create a cute, cozy ambiance that reminds our customers of their trips to Europe and their tea/coffee times at the local pastry shops that appear at every corner in European towns. Those who haven’t travelled much will also find our café appealing as they will be able to experience a Parisian coffee shop right here in Lahore.

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Did you outsource the interior designing?

Khadija:  Each and every thing has been designed by Moniba and I. From the tables to the window displays, the walls to the ceiling have been conceptualized and executed by us. We hand-picked the serving dishes and tea cups from various markets and shops from around Lahore. It was a lot of hard work but we are proud of ourselves.

Who did the wonderful wall mural?

 Amer: Shawali Khan. He is an architect by profession but his painting skills are exceptional, as you can see on our wall! He also has a great understanding of food and he helped us during the tastings when we were choosing our vendors and coming up with our menu. He helps out his brother. Shahnawaz, at his French restaurant, Amu.

What has the response been like so far?

Moniba:  Overwhelming! We still have not launched a formal marketing plan, so given that, we couldn’t have asked for more. We are mainly thriving on word of mouth promotion at the moment.

“The Prime Edibles team will soon be operating the British Council Library café offering a deli menu along with our specialized desserts”

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What are the perks of having your own business?

Moniba:  Autonomy! You get to be your own boss

Khadija:   You do what you love!

Amer:  The feeling of accomplishment

The downside?

Moniba:   Devotion! Work, work and work!

 Khadija:  You cant run away from problems, you have to take the bull by the horns

 Amer:   High level of stress!

What is your favourite item at DD?

Amer:   Cadbury torte, Cadbury dream and Assorted Strawberries

Moniba: Belgian Lindt Tart, twix Cheesecake Trifle and Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Khadija:  Mango Pavlova, Cherry Pie, Kiwi Panna Cotta

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What are your working hours like?

Moniba:  The opening hours are 4 pm to 12 am, but will change in the winters. For the team, however, it is round the clock!

Would you be expanding your menu or sticking to desserts only?

Amer: As Dessert Directory is the first luxury dessert bar of Lahore, it is definitely going to stick to desserts only. But of course, we keep updating our hot/cold beverages regularly. As for expanding our menu, the Prime Edibles team will soon be operating the British Council Library Café offering a deli menu along with our specialized desserts.

 Do you have a city you want to travel to just to try out the desserts there? OR have already traveled to and have your favourite desserts from there?

Amer:   London for desserts, hands down! I would like to travel to Buenos Aries to try some there soon.

Moniba:  I can’t pick one, I am a dessert lover! I’ve had the best desserts of my life in London, New York, Paris, Dubai, Milan and my next destination for desserts is going to be Sydeny.

Khadija:  Paris. I have lived there for 6 months studying food and wine and I made sure to stop by at different patisseries while exploring the city. If I get the chance, I’d love to try out some desserts in Tokyo. There flavors are mature, cooking techniques advanced and they have some crazy combinations which I am dying to taste!

How do you see the dessert market in Pakistan developing?

Moniba: The dessert market is quite stagnant at the moment where people restrict themselves to the flavours and textures they are familiar with. But be assured that entrepreneurs like us are working very hard to change the market trends and dessert palette of our customers! We think the market the market will evolve and be very different (in a good way) in the coming years.

 Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

We would like to stick to our current crazy ambiance. But we are looking out to expand to different areas of Lahore. Maybe, some day we expand to other cities or even internationally! Fingers crossed.

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