High-profile politicos once rubbed shoulders at Cafe Grand, now it’s popular with cops

Published: June 24, 2012
The cafe has been home to several establishments through the decades. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR

The cafe has been home to several establishments through the decades. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR

The cafe has been home to several establishments through the decades. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR The cafe has been home to several establishments through the decades. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR

Cafe Grand’s facade is subtly ingrained in one’s memory. Thousands drive past the cafe every day and while it is largely empty now, in its heyday the people who would patronise it included Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. “It was a domain of the elite,” says Arif Hasan.

Located in the protected heritage site Edward House, which is owned by the Cowasjee family, Cafe Grand has been home to several establishments through the decades: a famed patisserie, a Korean restaurant and a diner serving Pakistani food.

Rafi Azeemi now runs Cafe Grand. He worked as a quality control manager and a station manager at Pakistan International Airlines for 35 years, and wanted to channel his globetrotting experience, coupled with the cookbooks he had collected, into Cafe Grand’s latest reincarnation.

Azeemi became involved with Cafe Grand after he saw an advertisement in the newspaper by an investor who was looking for a partner. The refurbished cafe opened up this January as a fast food joint serving Mexican-inspired dishes, pizza and burgers. Azeemi sourced everything from abroad, including the crockery. “There was no electricity, water or gas when we renovated this place. We did everything, including get new tiles that are fashioned to look like they are old,” he says. After it reopened, they had a considerably good response.

But after a couple of months, the steady stream of customers has trickled down to a few police officers and office workers who dawdle in and eat greasy plates of biryani.

The supply of coffee beans he brought has gone stale, the fryers are dusty and the pizza oven looks unused. The beautiful crockery is full of oily curry, not the fast food he had imagined serving customers.

The would-be restaurateur’s plan has gone wrong and he’s despondent.

“I sold my wife’s ornaments, my personal car to renovate this place,” says Azeemi, who is nearly 70. “I have a family to support.”

The honeymoon period is over. Azeemi bitterly complains his partner doesn’t even sit down with him to discuss the dire state of affairs of Cafe Grand.

Azeemi blames the lack of “management experience” needed to run the restaurant. “I can cook, but this needs a manager.”

There are several other factors at play. Because Cafe Grand is now located in the ‘Red Zone’, cars can’t be parked in front of it. Any other parking areas are taken up by nearby businesses.

While in Lahore, the provincial government is set to open up another long-forgotten cafe, the Pak Tea House, in Karachi Cafe Grand is unloved, disused and failing to attract the hip young crowd it once could. It’s a familiar tale, but Azeemi – who says he is losing hope by the day – still sees a way to turn this around. “If we contract this place out to a Chinese food restaurant, it could do well. There is no good Chinese food available in the area and that could attract office workers,” he says. A Chinese restaurant, he feels, will attract families who come after 7 pm, when offices are closed so they can park.


Edward House was designed by the prominent architect Moses Somake, who is also to credit for Flagstaff House and the BVS School. It is located on Abdullah Haroon Road. It housed Cumpert’s Cafe Grand, which was frequented by the city’s elite, particularly politicians and bureaucrats, according to Arif Hasan. “Jinnah used to visit it, as well as Ghulam Mohammad and Suhrawardy. According to the owner, who used to be my client at one time, they used to set a table aside for him so he could have his whiskey. Until her death, Fatima Jinnah would order sandwiches and patties from there for her high tea parties,” he said. Hasan said that with the fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the end of Karachi’s nightlife, it deteriorated and the management changed hands.

The antiquities department restored the building’s facade earlier this year.

Published In The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Zohair
    Jun 24, 2012 - 8:47AM

    It can still take off if they consulted some marketing/image building firm. The restaurant does not have a focus on the type of clientele it wants and their social scale, the interior decor and access (a lot of people wanting to visit for the sake of nostalgia or colonial ambience may be old & debilitated; a handrail plus a wheelchair ramp may help).

    I’m not sure a chinese restaurant would be any more suRecommend

  • Greens
    Jun 24, 2012 - 11:20AM

    The draw back of this site is that no parking around in day time. And after evening the parking which is around this cafe, is become unsafe (because of snatching). So if they could have covered parking then this could be success story.


  • Rana Amjad
    Jun 24, 2012 - 2:32PM

    Story of Pakistan!


  • Uzair Javaid
    Jun 24, 2012 - 3:22PM

    I am fed up with this rainbow zones with every colour defining its significance respectively. This place as was once visited frequently by the Founder Jinnah, this place should be given a special charter for special parking slots and other facilities. One way i see is to call in the media gems, actors and other tycoons and it would automatically gain its once lost significance and elegance


  • Jun 25, 2012 - 12:42AM

    Pak Tea House, Lahore has a group of culturally active persons as a support group. Karachi’s ethos lacks a strong cultural tradition. Unnecessarily ties are being broken with the past all in the name of progress. Disorientation is so complete that you can’t even recognise the street which was your home address. To top it off even the names of the street have been changed to be replaced by some difficult to pronounce names. Every one is rapidly being reprogrammed, first by deleting whatever little was in the memory cache. We are all being turned into Dr Frankenstein’s monsters.

    Cafe Grand was a place where one could sink in the plush dark leather Chesterfield sofas have tea with their own pastries. Old historical monuments should be restored with great reverence. Nothing against the interests of the new entrepreneurs, but twinkling multicoloured lights and Formica tables tops, is plain murder.

    Whenever the interior of any building is of historical interest, that too should be part of the restoration list.

    Please don’t take our past away.


  • Arwa
    Jul 18, 2012 - 11:38AM

    Mr.Azeemi should never attempt to open a restaurant if he doesn’t have any experience although he says he were station manager or quality control manager……This place is seriously ruined by un-novice persons who has lack of resturant experience otherwise this place could be well off….. Chinese food’s idea is not so attractive as its surrounded by office area.


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