“You know what? You’re going to perform for my café!” exclaimed Vince in a very peculiar yet memorable introduction. I sat perplexed with a glass of Toddy in hand, in the front porch of Zostel Alleppey- a hostel I’d been volunteering at that time in the beach town of Alappuzha, Kerala. The excitement of the possibility of singing for a new audience pulsated through my veins. We talked on, in a carefree manner about his café. Both of us, unaware of how the world we knew was about to turn topsy-turvy and stay that way.
About three months later, in the thick of the COVID Pandemic, I found my eyes searching for a “Tarmac” sign. A dark refurbished garage stood in contrast to the gloomy afternoon sky of late June in the salty air of Cochin. A smile drew across my face as I finally spotted it on this garage’s entrance. This building seemed to have a certain ruggedness to it, which mixed well with the concept of a Riders Café. My friend and Founder of Tarmac Riders’ Café – Vince Pai – stood at the entrance with a warm and welcoming smile on his face. Quite excited to finally visit the place I’d only heard about for months, I stepped into this unique café.
From Warehouse to Café
Vince began tinkering around with the concept of this café while on an exhilarating motorcycle journey which started back in late December and took him a little less than one and a half months to complete. Starting in Bombay, he traversed from West to Northeast India and made his way to Thailand via Myanmar. His adventurous spirit – no longer encumbered by his stressful day job – ran wild.
It was back then that his mind began exploring the possibility of being his own boss and starting a business to call his own. This very desire brought his hidden zeal to create and conceptualise this place to the surface. When he first opened the doors of this huge warehouse, his vision started shaping up in the black canvas staring back at him. His mind had already started picturising what needed to be where, where and how the kitchen would be, etc.
“My dream was to make this the largest place for man and his machine to dine together! It is the largest cafe space in Kochi. There may be other Riders’ Cafes but none that match this scale and ambience,” he says with pride in his eyes.
Bringing Tarmac to what it is now has involved countless hours. From the basic plumbing to the intricate logo and graffiti that adorns the wall, you can feel the thoughtfulness with which this place has been created. He didn’t want to start until he was absolutely convinced that this would be the kind of place that he himself would want to sit and unwind at.
Inside The Café
A step inside after opening the door and I found myself engulfed in the reminiscences of a vehicle workshop with its air filled with the smell of oil, grease and metal. The only difference was that Tarmac was filled with the fragrance of the food that people were enjoying instead. Standing under a roof more than three times my height, my eyes could not ignore the painted road that ran along the middle of the concrete floor. The road ended right where a stage sprang up.
Shifting my eyes above, a beautifully crafted intricate logo of “Tarmac” greeted my eyes. Searching for a place to rest, I noticed with amusement how the tables and chairs were carved out of oil drums. Moreover, this wasn’t even the most delightful part – you have to check out the hand wash and washroom area to see how innovatively fuel pipes and tires have been used!
Thinking about his trip, Vince recollected how it made him extremely conscious of waste and conservation of resources. His realisation seeped into Tarmac café with their furniture, logo and other elements all made out of refurbished scrap and parts.
The logo – Tarmac –is a fusion of about 100kgs worth of nuts, bolts and other discarded parts. The raw and rugged look that emanates from the combined elements of the place doesn’t fail to appeal to the nature and aesthetics of Bikers. In addition, he remarks that families love the innovative nature and concept of the place.
What’s On The Menu?
What’s a café without its food? So, let’s dive right into one of my favourite topics.
An eclectic mix of Arabian, South Indian, American, Italian and Barbequed delicacies fill up the menu. Their food is affordable and “piquant”. Tarmac is also a place to chill with friends, family or loved ones while maintaining social distancing protocols. If there are any exciting matches scheduled for the day, they cast those live matches on a huge projector screen.
In Vince’s own words, “It’s the perfect combination of safety, deliciousness and enjoyment!”
More brownie points for the fact that they try to contribute as much as they can towards the environment. For instance, they don’t serve plastic mineral water bottles. They do have RO water (which is readily available at no cost) but if a customer insists on mineral water, they do have the option of packaged mineral water in glass bottles. There aren’t any plastic straws around as well. 🙂
With my taste buds satiated, I got curious about how things were going after they recently reopened.
Running the Café in the time of Corona
The whole world came to a halt during COVID-19. Everyone has collectively felt the same challenges Tarmac faced due to the “coronavirus” in the restaurant business or otherwise. As a start-up that had just begun picking up business with a myriad of loans, the closing of the Cafe did pitch them hard. COVID-19 seems to have taken the centre seat for a while, so we just have to work around it together and move on!
When they decided to open again, their focus was maintaining safety protocols, hygiene standards and Government rules and regulations. Keeping all this in mind, they have adjusted our seating, altered our menu etc. Now they have a completely new set of hygiene rules that include sanitization of everything at every single step of the way.
They are working with a skeleton team of chefs and service personnel right now to cut back on costs. Nevertheless, that is no hindrance to their quality and consistency of food.
People are learning to cope with the situation by stepping out with an emphasis on their safety and Tarmac’s goal is to make them feel safe. Providing clean delectable food made and served by staff who sanitise themselves frequently. They want to prioritise the safety of everyone who is part of the Tarmac experience.
Meet The People Bringing This Experience To You
A place is only as good as the people who are a part of it or so the saying goes… right? Let’s know a bit more about the people of Tarmac:
- Tarmac initially began as a duo of Vince and his cousin turned partner Joseph. He is the one who gave Vince impetus and support to get the ball rolling on the café.
- Next, we have the man with the vision – Vince himself. An avid traveller and motorcycle enthusiast, he is an extremely fun person to be around. On days you don’t find him at the café, he is spotted with his mean machine in the coastal town of Alleppey.
- Vince’s friend Maria has been his food guide and inspiration. The face behind the menu and the working of the restaurant, her passion and her outlook on food make her utterly indispensable to Tarmac.
- Joseph’s friend Charles became an integral part of the building Tarmac up right from the initial days. He and Vince spent innumerable days together figuring out vendors, costs, etc.
- The need for a third partner brought another cousin of theirs – Biju – to the Tarmac family. He instantly aligned himself seamlessly with Tarmac’s vision. He’s been a huge help and you can find him a part of running the café daily.
- Rishin is a person who’s always been a phone call away despite the magnitude of the task at hand. The speed and ease with which he solves any obstacle out are almost magical!
- At last but not least, is Riyaaz. This buddy of Vince’s has been there for Tarmac in dire straits and his support to Tarmac is unparalleled.
All these people make Tarmac what it is today and it wouldn’t have been possible without any of them.
Vince remarks, “It’s been a super bumpy rollercoaster ride! However, looking at Tarmac filled with customers makes it all seem worth it. The very fact that Riders and Motorcycle riding clubs have made Tarmac their ‘go-to’ hangout is definitely the cherry on top!”
Tarmac café – is it for you?
“Tarmac combines my love for riding, motorcycles and food!” – Vince Pai
It’s for everyone who wants in on this unique experience! Their huge café space has enough space to fit motorcycles and their riders. Its vast floor and open spaces invite children to run around and play safely under the watchful eyes of their parents and guardians. The laid bike vibe is perfect for the youth who love to spend their evenings here leisurely. Despite your age, you’ll find a place for yourself.
Show Them Some Love On Zomato
People can show their faith and trust in them by visiting them in Kochi. If they spread the word about their Tarmac experience, that would be the biggest support possible!
Also giving them ratings, reviews, constructive criticisms would go a long way in helping them get back onto our feet. They’d be grateful to make up for a less than happy experience if the customers share their feedback personally. Going the extra mile for a happy customer is Tarmac’s founding principle.
Want To Plan Your Own Visit?
Tarmac is conveniently located on NH 544. It is the main thoroughfare in and out of the city and it is en route to Kochi Airport. Companypady metro station is less than 100 meters away, which enables good connectivity to the city.
They are open from 12 pm to 11-11:30 pm. They don’t have a last order system, they don’t mind taking in last-minute orders as long as the chefs are still around. They have a weekly off on Tuesdays to give their team their well-deserved rest. Maybe when they increase their strength they will be open throughout the year soon!
Tarmac is also available for online orders on Swiggy and Zomato for those who would like to eat from the comfort of their home.