Three hundred oil lamps illuminated the Dutch Hospital Colombo, on the evenning of Tuesday, May 21, remembering the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. Just like the many hotels around the country, restaurants and small culinary ventures have been badly affected by the lack of customers. Nevertheless, the lamps which were lit by the staff [...]


Hope keeps foodie passion alive


Hope in the horizon: Food trucks parked along Marine Drive

Three hundred oil lamps illuminated the Dutch Hospital Colombo, on the evenning of Tuesday, May 21, remembering the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. Just like the many hotels around the country, restaurants and small culinary ventures have been badly affected by the lack of customers. Nevertheless, the lamps which were lit by the staff and loyal patrons of the Dutch Hospital complex were a symbol of hope for a better tomorrow.

During the week we spoke to several restaurateurs and individual food entrepreneurs who were unanimous that it’s this hope which propels them on.

 Dilini Perera, the owner of ‘Lay Low Negombo’ like all restaurateurs, is keeping her head up and hoping that things will get back to normal again. “We do not want our dream to be ruined, to take a step back and feel disappointed,”she says.

Crepe Runner team: Seen better days

Cooking has always been Dilini’s passion and her dream was to own a restaurant. This came true in November last year. To get there though, she had to leave her career of ten years in the shipping industry.

“We chose Negombo because it is a tourism hub in Sri Lanka,” she says, adding that she and her fiance invested heavily in the business. “But we were truly happy to see the outcome and were slowly getting into the business.”

During March and April before the attacks, they were able to hit their biggest targets. Following this though and the  unrest that followed in Negombo, everything turned upside down.

It’s been a month since the bombings and there are still a few restaurants that remain closed. But, it isn’t just the restaurants that are affected. Several other businesses that depend on these outlets, such as suppliers, are also facing hardships.

“Yet we strongly believe in ourselves and our instincts. We are  holding on to this as we do believe that the strongest will survive,” Dilini says.

The food truck owners who frequent the Marine Drive in Bambalapitiya every evening are trying hard to stay positive. “It’s the passion for food that keeps bringing us back,” owner of ‘Crepe Runner’ Abdus Salaam tells us.

Just like the other truck owners in the vicinity, Abdus has seen better days. “Before, we were the talk of the town. Yet now there have been less sales,” he says. Back then foreigners who’d walk down the road would also stop for a crepe. But now Abdus and his team feel alone.


Flavour Fusion owner Faraz Razeen: Bustling atmosphere yet to return

Social Media plays a key role in several of these ventures that use the platforms to market themselves. However, with the constant blocks Abdus and several others are facing more challenges. “When social media is blocked, we don’t have a medium to communicate with customers,” he explains.

Further down at ‘Flavour Fusion’ which specialises in Mexican dishes with a Lankan twist, owner Faraz Razeen is taking an order from two customers. As he begins prepping a Burrito, he tells us times have been “pretty rough” from April. “We only ran the truck for three days after the Avurudu holidays,” he says. Following the attacks Faraz had not visited the site for almost nine days, which was a major loss because, just like Abdus, Faraz is a passionate foodie. He aims to offer quality food at a reasonable price, keeping a low profit margin in return.

Before the attacks, the area was bustling with local food enthusiasts. In fact Faraz was making plans to move to a small store. “But with this situation, those plans are busted. I’m really sad because that culture was lost. Our customers are also quite unique, compared to other places,” he says.


Dilini Perera, owner of Lay Low in Negombo (above)

“I don’t want to lose my customers. And if this place becomes deserted people might not come back.”

The drop in their regular customers, could also be due to the Ramazan season, he says,  as people prefer to cook at home to break fast. His other customers continue to visit him. And though he has to start early and finish early now, he still hopes business will pick up.


Street Burger: From food truck to new outlet

Both he and Abdus however tell us food delivery apps have drastically changed the industry in Colombo and a few of its suburbs. This is proving to be the best solution for those preferring not to go out for a meal, and also benefits several restaurateurs in their struggle to survive.

A few kilometres up the road is Street Burger, which started out as a food truck and  just four months ago, moved to a brand new outlet where they had a steady flow of customers.

We walked into the building, just as the Vesak lanterns were coming up.

There has definitely been a drop in sales since the bombings, restaurant founder Tharique Mohamed Shibly notes. But, he remains hopeful, attributing it partly to the Ramazan season.

Time he feels, is the answer. “We’d like to see our customers again. We’re also shocked at what happened,” he says.

Back at the Dutch Hospital, veteran restaurateur Harpo Gooneratne and cricketing great Mahela Jayawardene are hopeful of things slowly picking up.

There was certainly a dip in business around the country following the attacks, Harpo tells us. But he feels in the coming weeks people would start going out and patronising hotels and restaurants.”Perhaps it may take time for the tourism industry to pick up again. But, we have to secure our boundaries first and our locals have to support us.”

Restaurant and store owners of Dutch Hospital

Harpo has personally seen what Sri Lankans have gone through during the war. “We’ve been through checkpoints all our lives and it’s a certainly a jolt. But we have to get up and move forward,” he says.

The tenants of the Dutch Hospital have also pledged Rs. 500,000 to ‘Sri Lanka Unites’. Most of them will also be offering discounts at their restaurants, asking people to come back and enjoy this beautiful heritage site.

“It’s the local communities that have to support each other now more than ever,” Mahela tells us.

Both Mahela and his team at Ministry of Crab and Next Innings, the restaurants he co-owns with Dharshan Munidasa and Kumar  Sangakkara had to address the security issues and make sure everything was fine, before their restaurants opened once again. “It was slow at first because people weren’t going out,” he says. “But now gradually the people are coming through.”

Once you’ve gone through a 30- year civil war, instinctively you know that things can happen. Mahela grew up going to school, not knowing whether he would come back home. But he is sure that Sri Lanka can get back on track. “It needs to be baby steps, and we need to try and focus on taking those baby steps in the right direction,” he says.

One month after: Oil lamps in remembrance of Easter Sunday attacks at Dutch Hospital

“We all understand the situation and just need to create awareness and do our little bit to build that up,” he explains.  It’s only been a month since the incident and people are still dealing with the trauma. But at the same time as a country we need to get stronger, unite and rebuild.”

Mahela also urges people to get back to their normal lifestyles, because that’s the best way to move forward. “Our children need to start their lives again.”


Flavour Fusion: Accent on quality even when street food culture is going through rough times. Pix by Priyantha Wickramaarachchi

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