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A Chat with the Founders of “Project Otenga” – A Café in Ahmedabad that Brings Together Slow Design and NorthEastern Roots

Having a professional degree in designing may be one of the keys to conceptualize and define a structure but to be able to metamorphose it into a café of abstract comfort takes a little more than that. It takes persistence, determination and unsparing creativity to fill every corner with ingenious passion. For Kabyashree and Dayananda these elements came in together at the right time and with the right push to help them blossom their entrepreneurial journey that beautifully combines their passion, their design background and their roots

Here’s a chat with the founders of Project Otenga, Ahmedabad  – Kabyashree Borgohain from Assam (extreme left) and Dayananda from Manipur (extreme right) . They talk about how the project evolved from a house café in Gandhinagar to a full-fledged space in the University campus in Ahmedabad.Rootsandleisure_ProjectOtenga

  • Here’s a little background on the founders

A native of Assam, Kabyashree Borgohain is a design strategist, a gastronomical food researcher and chef, and an alumnus of the prestigious National Institute of Design, Gandhinagar . She also has a degree in Fashion and Lifestyle Accessories from and the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai.

Looks like her thorough experience in Design and Design Education over the years, gave the much needed push for Project Otenga. Apparently, the project sprouted through her passion for food, learning and design and as a part of her Graduation Project Thesis at NID


Photo | Kabyashree, Co-Owner of Cafe

Partner Yumlembah Dayananda Meiti is from Manipur, who instantly stands out as someone who has an overwhelming drive for adventure, making him an explorer in his own right. A scribe and a communications professional, Yumlembah’s earlier stints include Times of India, the DNA and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar.

He believes in the slow and organic design approach while his deep interest in nature and plants – which is partly reflected in his passion for collecting succulents and other greens; he believes in the process of engaging the mind and the being.


Photo | Yumlembam, Co-Owner of Cafe

  • Tell us about your venture ‘Project Otenga’. What’s so special about it? 


Through the  café we want to indulge our visitors in the  gastronomy and philosophy of slow design. We also want this space to encourage multidisciplinary collaboration and learning- and contribute in propagating a culture of mindfulness, constructive collaborations and collective learning.

“Otenga or the Elephant apple is a fruit widely used in Assam. Unlike most other fruits, Otenga is formed by the petals of the flower. Instead of falling off, the petals of the flower wrap around each other and become stronger and harder to become the fruit. This character of Otenga is used as a metaphor of Project Otenga’s multi-faceted, multi-modal approach.”


Photo | A look inside Project Otenga Cafe


Photo | Entrance to Project Otenga Cafe


Photo | You can choose to sit outside and have a relaxing evening

  • North East (India) in Ahmedabad – how did you come up with the idea? What was the inspiration behind it?

Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar are blessed with several educational institutions including many premier institutes such as Ahmedabad University (LD Engg college), National Institute of Design (NID), Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN), Mudra Institute of Communication Ahmedabad (MICA), Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) at Gandhinagar, Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) and others.

With so many leading institutes at a close proximity that attracts students from all over the country – and even abroad, so it becomes almost a necessity for a space like this to exist – a space that creates a culture of collaboration with casual yet intellectual and meaningful discussions.

Photo @Projectotenga

Photo @Projectotenga

These discussions implement into actions that contribute to sustainable development of the society. Along with that, Gujarat is known for embracing diversity and new ideas – which made Ahmedabad, a great space to launch our idea – our café. And most of all, with Ahmedabad University strongly supporting our efforts for creating a cultural collaboration like this, we didn’t have to hold back or look any further.

Photo @Projectotenga

Photo @Projectotenga

  • We can see that your café hosts many events as well – from book readings to open mics. Can you tell us more about these events and the artists you feature?

We are always excited about hosting or collaborating with people for all sorts of events that stir up the mind and provide learning and understanding for the collective good, events that contribute in creating a culture of mindfulness and sustainable growth.We have been hosting several book readings, talks, discussions as well as music and dance performances. Many of our events are also aimed at providing opportunities for hidden talents to get uncovered or for emerging talents to scale new heights.

RootsandLeisure_Project Otenga

  • Have you guys always wanted to be entrepreneurs? How did it all start? 

Kabya: Immediately after my Bachelor programme, I knew I  wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was instant and felt innate. I had started a small initiative with a friend initially, but it did not work out well as I was committed to working in a firm and couldn’t devote time to the project. A year later, when I started pursuing my Masters degree at NID in Strategic Design Management (SDM), I began to perceive design in a much deeper form, beyond merely aesthetics and utility. It’s a process in itself and has its wider implication in intangible manners.

Industry recruitments started falling out of my interest area as I saw that most of the recruiters were yet to understand what a NID graduate can offer. Most of the industries need to review their perception of design and the potential of design. There is a huge gap in what they want and what the designers can offer. Many companies are in the rat race of making design-centric organisations without being holistic in their practices.

That’s how I decided to start the journey towards entrepreneurship all over again. I took the opportunity of the graduation project semester at NID and started my thesis project in experimenting and studying the feasibility of the model.

Project Otenga’s co-founder Yumlembam Dayananda Meitei from Manipur, who was then working as a Media Relations and Communication Officer at IIT Gandhinagar, was a critical part in realising the gap and conceiving ideas for bridging it. Both of us together, with the help of my other fellow designers at NID, started developing the prototype and after six months we realised that the model works and started scaling it up. That is, in short, is how  the entrepreneurial journey set sail.

  • Biggest challenges you’ve faced and learnings so far?

It is not easy to bring up an experimental café as it questions stereotype and pre-conceived notions and practices. We have learned that constant disruption of the model is the key to avoid stagnation and boredom. We make sure that we deliver the concept we design/offer. This helps in making it a unique and a sensibly sustainable business that can be relevant at all times. As a café, we are more interested to induce behavioural change, we will feel accomplished if we can cultivate compassionate practices among the guests who visit the café.

  • Tell us about the many offerings you provide

Since we are in the café business, we are currently a service that provides food and ambience. However, in the future, we intend to start a product range on the traditional indigenous products grown or made in the North East.

RootsandLeisure_Project Otenga

Eggplant baked with mustard and topped with crispy fried onion (photo @projectotenga)

RootsandLeisure_Project Otenga

Baked Eggplant served with rice and salted vegetable (photo @projectotenga)

RootsandLeisure_Project Otenga

Matcha Tiramisu (photo @projectotenga)

RootsandLeisure_Project Otenga

Fresh vegetables (photo @projectotenga)

You can follow Project Otenga on Facebook and Instagram

Shiori Chan

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