‘I believe some people call it fusion’
2007-08-02 15:03:03 -

 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Anita Patil, proprietor of Café Society, a café and restaurant in Sligo Town 

Anita Patil is originally from Bombay in India. Her husband’s work first brought the couple to Ireland with the Overseas Doctor Training Scheme. The family travelled around Ireland, depending on the placements, from Northern Ireland to Galway and now Sligo. 
Patil is a trained lawyer and practised in India. As a result of her spouse’s visa status here, she could not work here when they first arrived. “It was okay then as the kids were small and my time was spent raising them. But once they grew up I thought of going back to work,” she says. “I would have had to take the bar exam here, which would not really have been a problem but at that stage I would have been paying non-EU fees, which were astronomical. 
“I thought about my situation and knew that going looking for a job would be just as demanding as working for myself. My passion is food, and I hoped to be free to experiment with an idea I had in that area.” 
Patil had learned her culinary skills from her family in India. “Traditionally girls in India would learn from their mother, but I also did other courses all the time in how to make different specialities,” she explains. “These lessons kept me in touch with different styles and techniques. 
“While I was being the stay-at-home mum I also gained some experience in catering through school fundraisers. I was very happy to offer my services at events and it was incredibly helpful in learning how to cook for and feed large numbers of people. I learned what people liked. At one event I volunteered for, we completely sold out, and at that point I knew then that I could do this. So I decided to open a little café.” 
Patil found that the process of setting up was a difficult one: “The logistics were quite stressful. Looking back on it, there are some things I may have done differently. It was probably just as well that I didn’t know what it would entail or I would have stopped in my tracks and not done it at all.”
She also wished that the whole area of regulation was easier to access: “I know that the regulations are there for a good reason and compliance is part of the business, but it happened in such a way that we got quite frustrated. 
“We found a lovely old building and contractors started renovations. Then we had different officers and planners telling us at different stages that certain things would need to be done. This was all very well but it became a time-consuming issue as work would have to be redone or held up.” 
Patil suggests that there is a need for a ‘one-stop shop’ for business owners who wish to open food shops, cafés or restaurants. “When you are starting off you really need that direction. Everyone was very nice and helpful but it could have been more linear,” she says. “There should be a single point of contact for people like me; somewhere I could find out exactly what the fire officer needs and what the health and safety officer needs and what the planning officer needs and so on. It would be a great help. As it was, I was chasing people up all the time.” 
Patil is now up-and-running and her café – Café Society – is busy and popular. She is also planning more outside catering. 
“We do informal cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere,” she says. “I wanted the kind of place that is family friendly too, it’s important to be able to bring the kids out to eat and not worry too much about dressing up and formality.” 
The menu, says Patil, includes “curries and baked potatoes, pasta – everything made on the premises. It’s what I call hotchpotch; I believe some people call it fusion.”
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