A love story with cocoa

By Smriti Daniel

Could Coco Veranda be Sri Lanka’s answer to Barista? Its ambitious owners have plans to make the coffee shop the island’s first franchise, and though they opened their doors mere weeks ago, they have enough confidence in their coffee, their sandwiches, their service and above all in their Death By Chocolate cake to make big plans for the company’s future. “We have other franchises coming into Sri Lanka, but we want to be the first ones to get out there,” says Sarath Chandra.

Niroshan De Silva Sarath Chandra

Sarath co-owns Coco Veranda. He is also the man behind the Bloom Room, and flowers from his store fill the interiors of the coffee shop, adding lushness and colour to the rich wooden interiors.

Designed by Sahran Abeysundara, the decor is quite lovely and welcoming, and free WiFi is on offer for anyone who’d like to settle in for a few hours. It’s a building worth wandering around. On the premises are several other businesses selling everything from handlooms, to lace and candles. The Bloom Room itself is cuddled in the back and has sunflowers as big as saucers in its colourful displays. There’s also plenty of parking.

Inside, on the cafe’s walls hang several arty publicity shots for Filicori – the brand of Italian coffee that the cafe serves. It could have been the distinctive green Starbucks logo up there, but for the steep price the chain demands of anyone attempting to buy into the franchise.

When Sarath and his partners realised that starting their own company would be more viable than bringing down a famous international brand, they opted for the former. Still, he says they’ve been determined to keep their standards high and their menu inventive.

Niroshan De Silva is consulting for Coco Veranda’s owners. He’s creating a niche market for Coco Veranda, offering patrons some of the options that have made Starbucks famous – for instance, it’s one of the only places in town where you can choose to have your coffee with full cream milk, skimmed milk, or soymilk.

They bake their own bread, and Niroshan assures us that anyone ordering a sandwich gets a loaf fresh from the oven (low G.I bread is also available).

Though the kitchen creates a range of healthy meals, it’s their desserts that are winning hearts. The seven storey Death By Chocolate is enough to fell a mere mortal, and the banofee (banana + toffee) pie seems to be in great demand.

The coffees are all made using Filicori products, including their range of chocolate powders and sauces, says Niroshan, adding that on average they are priced between Rs. 180 – 300. For most part, the food also falls into that range. The prices on the menu are all inclusive, making everything relatively affordable.

Come April, they intend to expand their menu, moving past the gourmet sandwiches and pastas into a range of pizzas and quiches. If their customers have their way, there might even be some Japanese dishes.

The fledgling company is taking the feedback of its customers very seriously indeed.

As for service, Sarath is borrowing a philosophy from another famous chain – the Hard Rock Cafe. He’s trained his small group of staff in the five values: Truth, love, right conduct, peace, and non-violence.

The virtues of these should be apparent right away – who wouldn’t want a peaceful waiter?

Still, the emphasis is meant to be on great customer service rather than short term profits. “It’s a love all, serve all philosophy,” says Sarath.

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