If you think that only the deadly coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the restaurant and café business in the Dhanmondi area, you are quite wrong.
Even before the arrival of the pandemic in the country in March last year, this business in the Dhanmondi area had weakened. The pandemic only pushed it to a breaking point.
With the setting up of private university campuses in the Dhanmondi area throughout the 2000s, the demand for restaurants and cafés skyrocketed.
Entrepreneurs saw restaurants and cafés as a booming business and they ventured into it.
For example, Keari Crescent, a 14-storied building at the Zigatola Bus Stand on Satmasjid Road, houses 14 restaurants.
The business quickly picked up as the private university students in the area sought to spend some time in these restaurants as their university canteens could not accommodate them.
Only the Dhanmondi area had at least 10 university campuses, starting from the ones near City College to the ones on Satmasjid Road and Dhanmondi-27.
The university campuses included the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), State University of Bangladesh (SUB), Stamford University, University of Development Alternative (UODA), Eastern University, Northern University, Bangladesh University, Daffodil University, United International University (UIU), and a branch office of Southern University Chittagong.
To cater to an estimated 30,000 private university students who studied in those campuses, around 250 restaurants and cafés sprung up in the Dhanmondi area. The main customers were the university students.
The first blow came when the University Grant Commission (UGC), the university regulatory authority, set the deadline of December 2017 to move the temporary campuses to permanent ones.
United International University, one of the leading private universities, shifted their temporary campus in Dhanmondi-15 to their permanent campus on Madani Avenue in Badda in the city. The university shifted the campus before the deadline ended in December.
"We had around 5,000 students in our Dhanmondi campus, most of our students ate at the restaurants and cafés around our campus. When we moved out of Dhanmondi, naturally the restaurants and cafés lost their regular customers," said Abu Sadat, deputy director of United International University.
Not only UIU, most of the private universities in the Dhanmondi area began to shift to their permanent campuses one after another following the UGC's directives, leaving the buoyant restaurants and café business in a vulnerable position.
Now there are only two private universities which are operating their activities in the Dhanmondi area.
The last attack on the restaurants and cafés was the countrywide shutdown to curb the coronavirus infection. Restaurant owners said that at least 50 restaurants shut down and another 50 had to change their ownership.
Entrepreneur Bayzed Alam Dipu opened a restaurant 'Drama Queen' on the seventh floor of Keari Crescent at the Zigatola Bus Stand area in 2017. But the restaurant with a seating capacity for 80 people could not live long.
"This was my first food business, the demand for food among students lured me to it, but the number of customers began to dwindle when the campuses started to move out," said Bayzed recently.
The entrepreneur incurred huge losses after he had to shut down his business in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in March. His business never turned around.
He said, "Now I have been working in a private company and trying to make up the loss I incurred."
Like Bayzed, Rashed Mozammel also set up a restaurant 'Mitra Café and Restaurant' on Notun Rasta in Dhanmondi area in 2018. Nearly all of his customers were students. The restaurant had a seating arrangement for 25 people at a time.
They served popular food items like kebab, grilled chicken, chap, and biryani. Initially, sometimes even 35-40 customers would come at a time, well beyond their seating capacity.
Rashed had to close the restaurant during the countrywide shutdown. He opened the restaurant in the month of Ramadan but the number of customers has decreased as all education institutions are still closed.
Every month, he had to incur a loss of Tk50,000 to Tk70,000. He did not receive any government stimulus.
"I thought my business would turn around in January when the Covid-19 situation would improve. But many things have become normal except for our restaurant business," said Rashed.
"We just wanted to stay afloat in the crisis but we failed to run the restaurants. The number of customers has come down to a third. All day long, we get around 10 customers."
Last week, Rashed was compelled to close his business forever.