Bangladesh: Café Opens New Home Post-Terror Attack

Jesmin Papri
170112-BD-cafe-620.jpg Employees at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka wait to greet customers, Jan. 12, 2017.
Star Mail

Fancy food shops and coffee bars abound in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter, but none has aroused as much curiosity and emotion as the new Holey Artisan Bakery on Gulshan Avenue.

The café re-opened for business this week for the first time in six months, but in a smaller space inside a shopping mall located about a one-half mile from its former home, the site of Bangladesh’s deadliest terrorist attack.

Since it opened its doors on Tuesday, the re-born Holey Artisan Bakery has welcomed customers ranging from well-off youths and foreigners to lower middle-class people who had never thought of setting foot inside the café.

Even rickshaw pullers, ready-made garment workers and jobless youths waited outside, just to catch a glimpse of the gleaming new bakery and its assortment of pastries and breads.

Twenty hostages, mostly foreigners, were killed at the picturesque lakeside building on Road 79 that used to house the café, when terrorists stormed it on the night of July 1. But for the bakery’s owners, staff and patrons, its re-birth in a 500-square-foot space inside the Rangs Arcade mall represents an opportunity to move on and put the tragedy behind them.

“After the militant attack, we struggled to overcome the mental trauma. At one stage, we thought of leaving the country; the country seemed insecure. But we have changed our minds. The country is safer now,” Ali Arsalan, one of the owners, told BenarNews.

He was not at the café when the attack took place, but he plans to live in the old building that housed his establishment, he told Agence France-Presse. The block around that structure was zoned residential and the government denied the café a permit to re-open at the lakeside site.

One member of his staff who was there that night, pizza maker Saiful Isam Chowkidar, was killed in a raid by security forces on the morning of July 2 that broke the overnight terrorist siege and during which the five attackers were gunned down.

In memory of the dead man, who was initially treated as a suspect by authorities, the café pays his salary to his surviving family, fellow café owner Sada Mehdi told BenarNews.

“I don’t know why the government declared Saiful a militant. At this time, I don’t want to search for the answer to that question,” Mehdi said. “But he was our employee. He left behind his wife and three children. As long as the company survives, his family will get money.”

‘Innumerable memories’

The new café can accommodate 20 customers at a time, compared to the old site that could serve 50 people. But there is a visible security presence at the mall. A detail of five to 10 police officers mans a post in front of the shopping center.

“I had been a regular customer of the Holey Artisan café. I have innumerable memories,” a Polish national who introduced herself as Anna told BenarNews as she came to buy food on Thursday.

She shook hands and exchanged greetings with the staff. She said she was not worried about security in the new café.

“I have come here to see the Holey Artisan again. Some of my friends came here yesterday. I wish the Holey Artisan good luck,” she said.

She said the world witnessed a gruesome event in July, but now it was time to move on.

Other former customers who had been skeptical about whether the café would reopen exchanged greetings and patted the shoulders of the owners and staff following its relaunch.

“I cannot afford eating at a costly café like Holey Artisan, but my boyfriend and I came here to encourage the owners. We are here to express our hatred for the terrorists who stigmatized Bangladesh by killing the innocent foreigners and locals,” Parvin Khaleda, a student at the Government Titumir College, told BenarNews.

A patron looks at a display of baked good in the new café. [Star Mail]

Rickshaw puller Md. Jamal was among curious onlookers who milled outside.

“I have heard about the Holey Artisan café after the attack. I am happy that the café is open again,” Jamal told BenarNews.

Abdul Aziz, the director of Valencia Furnishing, another shop in the mall, wished his new neighbors good luck.

“Incidents like that could have happened anywhere. I hope the café will stand again,” Aziz told BenarNews.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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