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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Female Foodpreneurs: Nashra Sakhawat on Soi71 and Fantasium

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Hello, I’m Nashra! Spending time with loved ones, eating good food, keeping fit, helping people and being a valuable member of community are some of my top priorities in life.

In 2010 I chose a path which would combine the above and eventually be my road to independence. Road translates to “Soi” in Thai. The name of my first business came very easily to me – Soi 71. A Thai restaurant which literally means Road 71, where we first opened our doors. It felt symbolic and special to have the year of Bangladesh’s Independence in the name. Ten years on we are in a new premium commercial space on a different road but with the same name and upholding our initial concept.

The construction, interior, menu and every detail of Soi 71 was done by us and it was during my second pregnancy. From the very beginning I wanted a space with safe, nutritious and delicious food to eat. One of the first things built was the play area to keep my two-year-old entertained while I worked. Before finalizing the adult menu we first made a kids’ menu where little palates got priority.

With a colourful and fun play area, a carefully thought out menu and customized services, Soi 71 very quickly became a beautiful place for people to spend time with loved ones. Three months after opening, my second child was born and even with him as a new born we find ourselves at Soi 71 every night, till closing. Great food can be one of life’s greatest motivators. Thai food is light and healthy, it is rare that one can enjoy a specific cuisine every night without worrying about weight gain. Very little oil is used and we love an abundance of multi colored vegetables and invigorating fresh herbs at Soi 71. The leaf on our logo is the Holy Basil, respected in many parts of the world as the goddess among herbs, with auspicious presence and properties in addition to medicinal, religious and spiritual power.

Soi 71 helped me make a connection to the community which went beyond paying customers. From generating employment to providing complimentary meals weekly to people who couldn’t afford to eat, it enabled me to start thinking big.

In 2016 I took over and revamped Fantasium, a large indoor playground in the heart of Gulshan 2. Many birthday parties are celebrated here with themed decorations done by me. We built Eleven Cafe as a separate entity, serving comfort food and a wide range of desserts and beverages. Fantasium is a place I run with invaluable guidance from my children. As they grow older Fantasium adapts to their changing demands for entertainment. Recently with my third child coming into the scene we’ve also put in a bigger variety of toys for toddlers. My businesses have always been intertwined with my personal life and most of our customers know this feeling of family that is always extended to them when they are at any of our institutions.

Soon after Fantasium and Eleven Cafe, I started a clothing brand for women, children and men called Source, which has its outlet in the same premise. Every item of clothing at Source is designed by me using sustainable materials that are free from harmful dyes and chemicals. All the clothes are fitted on live models to adjust shape and contour to ensure optimum comfort while looking sharp.

Working with two important aspects of life: food and clothing has put to good use my Psychology Degree from the UK. Before Soi 71 I worked for two years with autistic children. Although I am in a different field of work now, my degree has come in handy in my day-to-day existential reflection and growth. Moving forward I want to take into account all the lessons the 2020 pandemic has taught me. I am grateful for the success of my ventures despite many setbacks over the years and have my husband and family to thank for their heartfelt support throughout it all.

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