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Exploring Life & Business with Aliya Amanzholova and Anas Jawish of Opera Cafe and Coffeehouse

Today we’d like to introduce you to Aliya Amanzholova and Anas Jawish.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
The idea of opening a coffee shop came when we decided to move to Austin in 2014. Being in the hospitality industry for decades and having education in Hotel & Restaurant Management and Accounting collectively gave us a great starting point to begin this venture. It was and is an amazing journey that we hope readers can relate to and get inspired from.

The concept of Opera Café & Coffeehouse changed a lot throughout the years, and who we were almost eight years ago when we started this project, and who we are today, and what our company is today are very different. We have evolved, and we are very happy with who we are at this point. We found something more than running a food establishment, we found a purpose and action that makes a difference.

We started with a pretty standard café that offered great coffee and tea products, complemented by a nice food menu that offered breakfast items, sandwiches, salads and baked goods. Giving back was always important to us and we started to work with various organizations and individuals to offer our space and services to host art galleries, charity events, and anything we could accommodate considering our revenues and space. We became a permanent monthly sponsor to Austin Farm Sanctuary, giving a static percentage of our monthly revenues; and we supported other organizations based on their needs.

But things really started to evolve when we decided to change our entire menu to 100% vegan for the sake of animals. Realizing the oppression and suffering animals go through on a daily basis, we wanted to minimize our involvement as much as possible. Therefore, in 2020 we started to work on the vegan menu and letting our customers know that the menu will change.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Understanding our market and clientele base at that time, we acknowledged the fact that the new concept may not work, causing revenue losses and closure of the business altogether. Despite that, both of us and our team worked jointly on creating new all plant-based delicious menu. We started to remove one animal product from the menu after another. Sadly, we received negative feedback from some regular customers, who promised not to return and telling us that it was a horrible business decision. But we kept going. I give a lot of credit to ATX Vegans, also doing business as Planted Society and other members of vegan community in Austin for joining us on this journey and spreading the word of our transition on their social platforms. This not only encouraged us and lifted our spirits but brought in a completely different demographics of clientele, who support us until this day. We were able to sustain some of our old clients, who were open to plant-based options, plus we gained many more new customers, which increased our revenues overall.

As you know, we’re big fans of Opera Cafe and Coffeehouse. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Opera Café is a neighborhood café, where we know our customers, we know what they like to eat and drink and how they like their goodies. It is a nice spot to get some work done; we have people working on laptops, taking virtual meetings, visiting with friends. Small outdoor sitting allows visits with pets. As a parent company AAJ Hospitality LLC, we also provide hospitality consulting and accounting services.

100% vegan cafe; a lot of items are made in house, such as kebabs, lox, cheeses, jackfruit birria tacos.

Our menu has a lot of options to choose from and the way we created it is to satisfy various taste buds.

Menu items include, but not limited to: tacos, wraps, bagels, sandwiches and salads, burgers, fries, hummus.

We use great quality Italian coffee and whole leaf tea. We also offer smoothies, frappes and other coffee-related beverages.

Being one of the few vegan cafes in South Austin, we truly strive to have an authentic caring customer service environment. As at any food establishment it gets busy, but we always try to check on all our customers once the rush allows us to. We care for the food to be delicious, and it is always made with love.

We are not a huge corporation, but we try to do good with the abilities we have. We are always happy to provide our space and support should you need it for a good cause. We held several Art Galleries where local Austin artists got to display and sell their work; we participated in various charity events, such as “Furry Valentine Toy Drive” with Austin Dog Rescue and Wounded Warrior Project. We hosted traveling musicians who came to Texas to share their talent. And we are always open to do more!

Another cool feature we have is the mural painted by Austin local artist Wiley Ross. We wanted to make Opera even more inviting and cozy, and working with Wiley was an absolute joy! On one hand, having a gorgeous piece of art on our wall is a huge gain. On another, observing the process of mural creation and transformation was priceless!

We are very proud of the way our new (well, not so new anymore) vegan menu turned out. We hear a lot of great feedback from customers, and we get a lot of non-vegans visits and enjoy the food on daily and weekly basis. We are also proud of the relationships we build with our customers. We feel like Opera is a safe space, like a second home. They share their family events with us, and we always have great conversations with our patrons.

We also provide Catering: breakfast, business lunches, dinners, personal or corporate events, coffee and dessert bar. We are open to discuss any event and make a customized menu based on our clients’ needs.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
The first major risk was to open a business in a new city that we just moved to. And the second risk was to change our concept entirely making the Café 100% vegan after six years in business. Both worked out great!

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Image Credits
Aliya Amanzholova

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