Shakil Zoro Bhamji, better known as Zoro, was an entrepreneur at an early age, selling fruit by the roadside in Ba to pay for his school fees and supplies.
“I used to see all the ladies from across the village sell their mangoes on the roadside. So during school holidays and weekends, I used to pick up mangoes and then go and sit next to them, take my timber stand and set it up. I started becoming the earliest person there, so I could secure the best spot.
“I knew how to make money. I knew what to do with money. Saving money and spending it on the important things, that’s a lesson I learned at a very young age,” he continues.
Zoro has turned that entrepreneurial zeal into a venture that now encompasses some of the ‘best spots’ for coffee in Suva, Nadi, Lautoka and Ba.
From working as a barista to Gloria Jean’s coffee shop to a Denarau resort, from teaching other baristas for a local coffee company and then training with Fiji Airways, Zoro’s knowledge of what it takes to succeed at the front lines of Fiji’s tourism industry has enabled him to make his The Coffee Hub outlets a success.
Zoro says his early days as a barista made him understand the power of coffee to “make or break” someone’s day.
“I realised that making coffee wasn’t just about milk and coffee and mixing it and serving…It’s about making a beverage with love.”
He brings that attitude to every cup of coffee he makes, even today.
Zoro also has an insatiable appetite for learning, whether it is teaching himself how to service coffee machines via YouTube or standing at a chef’s shoulder, learning how meals are put together. “I learned all these things just watching and learning and asking questions,” he says.
But he knew he wanted to open his own café as well and began collecting “cups and plates and paintings” for that venture, storing them at home but ‘manifesting’ his future.
That first The Coffee Hub is on the Nadi Back Road, where concerned relatives told him “it’s not going to work”.
But that only fuelled Zoro’s determination. “If everyone says no, that what motivates me to make it right,” he says.
All The Coffee Hub outlets have a distinctive buzz, whether it is from the business crowd lunching in Suva, to shoppers enjoying a break under the indoor umbrellas in Tappoo City, Lautoka, to the largest Nadi venue, which draws visitors from Denarau, as well as a loyal local clientele.
Then there is The Coffee Hub in his hometown, Ba.
Zoro says he wanted the Ba café to be somewhere that always opened its doors for his mother and grandmother. Things were not always financially comfortable growing up, so knowing “they always have somewhere to go” to have a cup of tea and relax is important to him.
“I’ve taken the hospitality industry to their doorstep,” he says of the people of Ba. “We cater for all the clientele. And it’s beautiful.
“I give the Bula spirit to our people, to our locals. And probably that’s one of the reasons why The Coffee Hub grew. Because it’s loved by the locals.”
Not long after opening in Nadi, the Covid pandemic closed Fiji’s borders. Zoro survived by relying on his reputation and the network of customers he had built in previous roles.
“When everywhere was shutting down, I opened my doors,” he recalls.
He made food and served coffee and juices, piped music into the carpark and did a brisk trade in takeaways. Zoro said he tried to spend a moment or two with everyone who came for their orders, trying to maintain connections and spirits through a difficult time.
Now his empire is set to grow further. Zoro is preparing to open a new concept dining and wine bar experience in Suva, ‘Art’ toward the end of this year. It will be a glamourous space (a 2.5 metre chandelier has already been installed) focused on art and food.
“The menu is going to be very different from The Coffee Hub,” he says. “It is going to have pasta, very nicely plated breakfasts. Everything is going to be very artistic. It’s going to have coffee and fresh juices.
“We will have a whole room with wines. So it’s going to be actually a nice wine bar.”
This ‘Rising Star’ in Fiji’s tourism industry—he won that award at the 2022 Excellence in Tourism Awards—clearly has many ideas for how to enrich Fiji’s cultural and dining experiences, and positive energy to burn.