Gifting the world with mint and coco with a dash of Omani hospitality

On a Tuesday afternoon, Salam Square in Madinat Sultan Qaboos is not its usual busy self. Tucked away inside this building is one of the newest crowd pleasers in the country today, and although the people walking outside are too few to count, inside the minimalist interior of Mint & Coco, it was quite packed.
There was a sense of calm once you step inside its doors. Sweet aroma pervades the air — there was the clear hint of coffee and amidst a backdrop of white walls dotted with greens, one would immediately feel that it is a brand conscious about everything that people see. The owner has studied everything well, from the colour scheme to the food served. She’s hired the best consultants making sure that they nailed down the details. After all, its owner and founder, Omani Loaya al Mamari, wanted to make it an international brand, and if it is to reach that dream, everything relies on the details.
Loaya is personable and charming — one of those people who can easily disarm you with her warmth and sense of openness. She was all over the place — in a really good way. She was in control and she knew exactly what she wanted.
She quite had a busy day. A few hours earlier, she has some film crew shooting all over the place. Our interview was her second for the day and despite all of it, she still managed to run the place and balance it with her family back home.
We picked a corner close to the kitchen. We can see the kitchen staff moving at different speed. The stoves were on fire, the kitchen was smoking, the barista was brewing — and Loaya — calm, composed is used to all of it and she has a deep sense of trust that everyone was on their A-game. Even she herself was on her A-game for the interview.

tell us how the business came about.
I have this obsession with coffee and beautiful cafes. Every time I travel, I would look for locally owned cafes, try their specialties and meet their owners and understand the story behind why they started their business.
As an Omani, I felt that was what was missing here (in Oman). Most cafes here are either not specialty cafés or are part of an international franchise or chain. As a lover of quaint little cafes, I always wanted to start something like that in Oman and I felt it was something we were missing out on. So I took up the challenge. It was a two-year journey but the decision was to officially inaugurate Mint & Coco.

What is the inspiration behind the aesthetic and the food of Mint & Coco?
The décor of the restaurant was inspired by the world. As an avid traveller, I took ideas from the various things I saw on my travels. Everything you see is from different parts of the world. The green planted wall is inspired by something I saw in Singapore which is one of my favourite cities especially because of its lush greenery. I knew I needed to add that freshness into this space. I mixed it up with other decorations from around the world — anything that matches the earthy, soothing aesthetic of the place.
Other than the décor, it was also important for me to have staff from all over the world so that when people come here they feel welcomed. I not only want those coming into the restaurant to feel welcomed, but also feel that they are one of us.

What was behind the name?
The taste and smell of mint are synonymous with an idea of freshness. We wanted to exuberate a sense of freshness with our décor and food hence why you see lots of greenery in the restaurant and we focus on using fresh ingredients in our food too! Coco is for coconut, which we try and infuse in our food because it’s not only tasty, but also extremely healthy. Coco could also mean chocolate or coffee which we offer, it was a play on words. To me, the name just fit perfectly with what we had to offer.

As a woman, you are expected to juggle your role as a wife and
mother along with being a successful business person. How do you do it?
I do it like any other person who has a full-time job. I just try and find balance. I come to the restaurant during the day and manage the restaurant. I prefer being hands-on and basically, give myself working hours. Early evening, I head home in time to give my kids my time along with helping them with their schoolwork. At the end of the day, it is all about balance. As long as you are organised, it can become tough, but you end up finding out what best works for you.

What were some of the challenges you faced?
I think with anybody setting up a new business, you are concerned about challenges. Going into this venture, I expected them but somehow things I thought would be challenges were really not!
I mean there were a few things that didn’t go exactly as we hoped. It took time, but in the end, things worked out. Our main challenge, which was really a blessing in disguise, was that when we opened, we didn’t anticipate the crowds that would pour in. We were understaffed at the time and weren’t ready but that changed and here we are.
Going into any new business, challenges will come. Some expected and other you could never have imagined, but all in all, they become a part of your learning experience.

What do you think draw people to come here?
I want to serve food that is delicious, comfort food along with it being healthy and fresh! I’m particular about the ingredients we use and make sure that we use fresh and good quality ingredients. That’s one of the reasons — good quality food.
In this age of social media and as an Instagram user myself, I also want to make sure our food is pretty. Once we’ve nailed the taste of a dish, the next time is to make sure that the presentation is good. I want to put out food that is tasty and Instagram-able.

YERU EBUEN & TITASH CHAKRABORTY