Dreamers are also believers. Atikur Rahman, CEO of “AND OR” is the man behind The Reading Cafe. Zulker Nayen Mahmud & Lamyaa Yushra spent an afternoon with Atikur Rahman at his new Reading Cafe at Banani, where he shares his long-cherished dreams and his future endeavours with Colors Plus.
Do you ever ponder how book lovers get their ‘fix’? The answer is a book. And more books. But the most excellent fix for a book soul could be a calm spot with a hardbound book with its signature ancient book scent and a chai (or coffee).
The thought that bookworms are homebound and barely see the sun isn’t so much genuine any longer; currently, they can be found hunching over a book within the book cafés that are gradually editing up within the calm back roads, on a mountainside, and close to our homes. At long last, others can get down to genuine binge-reading with a crisply brewed coffee or a Tulsi-infused chai as they discover a spot by the window and douse in a few daylights in an interesting café. The concept of book cafés is modern, interesting, and catching up in Bangladesh, and book partners couldn’t be more joyful.
There has been a recent surge in book reading cafes and booklovers have found a sanctuary with the book café culture gaining popularity. The first of its kind, the concept of sipping a hot cup of coffee, browsing through the shelves and reading your favourite author couldn’t have gone any better.
The Reading Café in Banani is the brainchild of Mr. Atikur Rahman, CEO of “AND OR”, an international books importer and supplier. He left his job to become an entrepreneur and came up with the innovative idea of “The Reading Café” which offers book lovers with a walk down the memory lane comprising of a vast collection of books with an aim to bring out the culture of networking and productive connectivity of human spirits over coffee. It’s a place where book lovers can lose themselves amidst the titles of books and the smell of fresh books.
“I observed that Bangladesh lacks in the area of supplying original English novels and since then I conceived the idea that I want to cover the crisis of English novels. I wanted to do something unique where people can avail English books and make a collection from there and spend some quality time sipping a cup of coffee. Keeping that in mind I decided to open a book café with play zone,” the entrepreneur said.
For two long years, Mr. Atikur Rahman worked behind this project, The Reading Café. His first book café was in Motijheel followed by one in Shyamoli, and Science Laboratory and on February 5, The Reading Café opened its second branch in Banani for its loyal readers while the former branch being at Science Laboratory which also consists of a corporate office and another one in Gulshan 2. The Reading Café has four branches in total and it’s a concern of the company And Or.
Hailing from Rajbari and completing his schooling there Mr. Atikur Rahman was enthused with books while working for a multinational company in India back in 2010. It was there that he was introduced to many publication houses and developed communication with many schools and colleges. He gained knowledge regarding books, original books and publication through his massive researches as well as mingling with like-minded people. “I worked there till 2013 and from 2014 I started my own business in Dhaka. In Bangladesh, many people want to read books but it gets expensive so people are unable to read them. Either they are unable to purchase it or it’s beyond their capacity. So, with that concept I started the café where people can visit the café, read books or buy them and enjoy refreshments, in a way they are getting both the facilities here,” explains Mr Atikur Rahman.
The Reading Café has been designed by an architect from Malaysia. The café has a corner for coffee, tea, snacks and other beverages. Their book collection takes up the walls from floor to ceiling and you can spend days here going through a variety of books ranging from mythology to nature. They have not only books but they have a huge collection of magazines and encyclopaedia. They have rare and original comics and graphic novels. There is a play zone for kids. This allows them to not only read but also enjoy. Reading books is no longer an indoor activity. The Reading café just took to a whole new level. The reading café has eye-soothing lights and that’s what makes reading books comfortable.
The Reading Café garnered positive responses from the readers as stated by Atikur, “We do not aim to target a certain age group; our café is open to people of all ages because acquiring knowledge is what we aim to provide our customers with. I see parents bringing their young ones here and they are enjoying their time in the play zone as well as have a look at the books collection; this is something you cannot do in a library. By reading books we can attain a lot of information. I think it is developing their learning habit and mentality,” he added.
The overwhelming response from the people is what allowed The Reading Café to open its second branch. Besides he works with organizers of events such as the Dhaka Lit Fest.
Mr. Atikur Rahman said he has been ambitious since his boyhood. He started his business while he was a grade VI student. “I started a department store at that age; I was business-minded from the very beginning.”
When the pandemic almost made the outing impossible The Reading Café opened its doors to the bookworms and the responses were welcoming. Although the idea of a reading café may come as a classic move through this café Mr. Atikur wants to revive the book reading culture which was losing its charm during the pandemic.
The company, which has a rich assortment of imported classics and new novels for grown-ups and youngsters alike, saw a 20 per cent uphill every year. “We try to provide on-demand as well. If a customer demands a book and it’s not available we try to bring them for our loyal customers,” he said.
When asked about the initial challenges and whether he faced backlash from his immediate circle Mr Atikur Rahman said, “I did not face challenges in the initial stage because I had four years of experience. If I had to create it newly then I would have faced challenges but I knew I had a community and I know where I am headed and wanted to be. I know about myself because I am so confident about myself and I know I have a huge market. I didn’t consult with anyone about whether it would run properly. I have my market and business and I know how big my community is and I analysed the public demand thoroughly to bring forth this idea. I knew this concept will work because when I saw the book cafes in other countries it ran smoothly. Thankfully, I am able to give that support through my bookstores.”
Though the pandemic may have disrupted the businesses The Reading Café is no stranger to it as Mr. Atikur Rahman stated, “Due to the Corona I am missing the events that were hosted but I have recovered that through online. Considering the café’s main attraction is the bookstore and the live experience itself we faced some challenges, but thanks to our loyal readers, they supported us throughout in the online platforms that we were back on track.”
The plans for The Reading Café are just starting to take flight as disclosed by Mr Atikur Rahman who plans to achieve big things through the café. “Basically, I have big plans for the book café. I plan to expand it and plans for international publications, international in the sense that our books will be available everywhere because my aim is to promote the good author in our countries overseas.”
He added, “I want to give a platform to the young authors and not just limit it to a bookstore. I also plan to host book signing ceremony and storytelling sessions hosted by the authors themselves if the opportunity allows and it’s already on my cards.”
Atikur Rahman observed that the book café trend is just warming up and with it the community is bound to grow.