By Dinesh Rai
Synopsis: Some people are born to lead. They find the way and show others a new path to the future. One such personality who found new ventures that inspired others is Shyam Kakshapati.
If anybody ought to be known as a pioneer, it has to be Shyam Lal Kakshapati. There were many firsts in his colorful life, although all of his endeavors didn’t work out the way they should have. Yet most did and his success stories are inspirational like no other. Inventive and always one step ahead of everyone else in the game, Kakshapati led the way for others to follow. The most obvious example of one such venture is his string of bakery cafes that can be found all over the city. I once drove with the man to Kuringtar Resort before it was officially opened to the public. Back then resorts were opened only in popular destinations like Nagarkot and Dhulikhel. During the long drive we talked about how people were copying from his eateries and he complained, “I know people are copying from my bakery cafes, but do they even have to copy the green color code and picture frames of ‘Birds of Nepal’?” Yes, indeed it was outrageous how people were copying his every move. When he expanded the chain of bakery cafes, others followed suit. In fact, his was the first chain of eateries.
Shyam Kakshapati began with a humble grocery store in Ratna Park while still very young. He had lost his father at an early age and moved to Jhonchen. He remembers, “The Rana girls used to come to Ratna Park to buy chocolates as they were not available in other stores. They could only buy from us.” Always ahead of others! Later in the mid 70s, Shyam opened Café de Park, the first of its kind in mid town selling pizzas and hamburgers. The café was located at the western edge of Ratna Park near the Ganesh Mandir which still stands to this day. It was a place where the younger generation hung out and was considered one of the ‘hep’ places in town. People went there to have coffee, pizzas and pastries and meet with friends.
It wasn’t long before he opened what was to become one of Kathmandu’s iconic eateries, Nanglo Café & Bar at Durbar Marg in 1976, when there were mostly travel agencies and airline offices on both sides of the road. It became a popular and convenient place to eat for people working in the travel industry. They came for lunch and in the evenings, friends would hang out in the bar below. Nanglo was easily the most popular eatery back then given the reasonable prices and the quality of food that was consistent. Sizzlers were one of the favorites of people who frequented there and their Daal Bhaat was also a winner. Then in 1981, the Nanglo Bakery was added beside it to provide people with fresh bakery products at a time when Kathmandu lacked quality bakery items.
Few people may know about Kakshapati’s other venture. He opened a supermarket in Putali Sadak which was also a first for Kathmandu. The supermarket in New Road was hardly a supermarket but a mall that sold mostly clothes and accessories. The Nanglo Supermarket (check the name) sold rice and other foodstuff along with luxury goods. I vividly remember an incident when someone I knew as an entrepreneur, was seen standing outside this supermarket just watching people come and go. When asked what he was doing there, his reply was: “I’m trying to figure out why everything he opens does well.” Ironically, this was one of his enterprises that didn’t last. A common problem businessmen face in Kathmandu is when the rent suddenly shoots up depending on how well your enterprise is doing. “The landlord demanded too high a rent and it became unfeasible and the supermarket had to be closed,” says Kakshapati. This was long before Bhatbhateni Super Store and other countless malls began springing up everywhere.
Shyam then opened Nanglo Bakery Café in Tindhara, a completely new concept for those times. It was located along the road which goes from Durbar Marg towards Krishna Pauroti and Kamal Pokhari. This venture was a roaring success and it wasn’t long before it became a chain and bakery cafes were opened in Jawalakhel, Dharahara, Teku, New Baneshwar, Pulchowk, Boudha, Bhatbhateni and Thamel (originally a deli which was converted to a bakery café). He even opened one in Tansen known as Nanglo West.
Shyam was also the first to employ a large number of handicapped people in his bakery cafes which went down very well with the customers. He was first struck by how efficient the hearing- impaired people were at handling tickets and audiences at a concert. They could communicate with each other from a distance using sign language and could manage the crowd well. “So I started hiring a number of deaf people through the National Federation of The Deaf Nepal who were then trained as waiters and waitresses. A sign language interpreter was hired to train them on taking orders and delivering them,” informs Shyam. These were people who didn’t even know how to use knives and forks, so it was quite a task teaching them. It was such a novel idea and such a noble cause, that customers wholeheartedly supported the move. It took Kathmandu by surprise and the concept worked like a charm.
But entrepreneurs need luck just like everybody else. He was once on the look-out for a place to open a bakery café in Pulchowk. Somehow, he couldn’t find a suitable house in the area. Then one day he met an acquaintance who told him, “I’ve got a place in Pulchowk which I want to rent out.” And that’s how he found the ideal spot for his Bakery Café in Pulchowk.
Kakshapati’s Indian Restaurant known as Tansen did not last long on the opposite side of the road from Nanglo. He eventually converted that to a deli but that idea didn’t fare much better either. Another deli has recently been opened in Sanepa. Along with bakery cafes and delis, Nanglo has also opened Nanglo Express in various locations around Kathmandu.
One of his big successes came with the opening of Kuringtar Springs Resort in Kuringtar, just beside the beaches (banks) of the Trisuli River. With easy access from the highway, this was ideal for people looking for a getaway especially for weekends and holidays when they could leave the noisy, polluted city behind. With a large swimming pool and cottages dotting the landscape, it captured the imagination of the Nepali people. It has also become the lunch stop for Greenline Buses on their way to Pokhara and Chitwan. The design of Kuringtar Resorts won an award for the architect Tom Crees back in the day.
Shyam also got into education and opened Shuvatara School which is run by his wife Rani Gurung Kakshapati. Established in Sanepa beside the main road, it later relocated to Lamatar. The school was known as much for the good food as the education. He then went on to open a bed & breakfast place known as The Yellow House. His daughter Nayantara added a host of events including an art market, live music and organic vegetables, bread and meat products at the weekend Farmer’s Market.
Shyam Kakshapati’s many ventures have made him an iconic figure among Nepali entrepreneurs. Although his popular Nanglo Café had to move from its original premises in Durbar Marg, he’s back in the original spot with Sam’s One Tree, an eatery and store selling Nepali products. He never seems to run out of new ideas and how to reinvent, a born pioneer.