From Food Truck to Café: Terrassen Café Comes a Long Way

Dhanesh with his food truck

“Vegan food is all about efficiently using the already existing ingredients,” says Dhanesh Sharma, Chef-Owner of Hyderabad-based Terrassen Café

Back in 2012, soon after completing his engineering from Delhi University, little did Dhanesh Sharma know that life has some big plans for him! Originally a resident of Ajmer in Rajasthan, he landed a job in a Kolkata-based startup, but left it after 9 months. He then came to Hyderabad and worked as a school teacher.

Dhanesh Sharma
Dhanesh Sharma, Chef-Owner, Terrassen Cafe

“It wasn’t a conventional school but more of an experimental one. It adopted different pedagogy, philosophy and methodologies – researched and proposed by the likes of Rabindranath Tagore. It was a different experience,” Dhanesh Sharma tells AYUVE.

However, two years later, he’d quit teaching, for, he had found his calling in food. “I come from a family where everyone loves food and cooking. I cook everywhere and on every occasion. Few years ago, for some reason, I suddenly went vegetarian. Six months later, in 2013-14, I found myself drawn to veganism.”

Even as the concept was in its nascent stage in India, Dhanesh turned vegan overnight. Then, he started experimenting with vegan food and simultaneously honed his cooking skills. “In vegan diet, there are no special ingredients. We can make milk and butter out of almonds or simply use them in gravies and savories. Both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes use almonds alike. So, vegan food is all about how efficiently we use the already existing raw materials, barring a few. Given the diversified food available across the world, the choices and combinations here are endless,” he quips.

Nevertheless, the self-taught chef in him asked for more. That’s when Dhanesh Sharma launched his own food truck – opposite Goethe Zentrum, the German Cultural Centre on Road no.3 in Banjara Hills – in 2015. In no time, the 4-table setup saw hordes of foodies fondly digging their teeth into those lip-smacking, healthy vegan dishes that would easily make for a menu at a vegan café.

Three years later, owing to the huge rush, the engineer-turned-entrepreneur rented a small space on Road no.4 in Banjara Hills and launched Terrassen Café as Hyderabad’s first vegan café. A year later, in 2019, it was shifted to the current location – Road no.7 in Film Nagar – and has been offering dine-in, takeaway and delivery services ever since.

Over the years, the café grew into a regular hangout for people who love to enjoy a cup of coffee or favourite dish over peppy conversations or spend longer hours with their own selves. “We do have the support of vegan community. But, our customers include vegetarians, meat-lovers, flexitarians and others. In fact, few regulars have been visiting us since 2015,” Dhanesh Sharma says.

So, what’s the USP of Terrassen Café? It’s definitely the menu. Unlike other cafés and restaurants, there’s no fixed menu here. It's changed frequently, even though a few dishes are repeated often as per customers’ demand and popularity. But nothing gets a permanent place. “This gives a refreshing experience for foodies. Our regulars visit us two times a week, on an average. We obviously can’t expect them to eat the same dish every time, when they can actually satiate their taste buds with thousands of options. So, we keep experimenting a lot and make sure that our menu stands out.”

Given the fact that there are no vegan hospitality institutes in India, Dhanesh creates/designs the dishes himself and also trains his team of chefs. At present, the café is serving 60-70 varieties of dishes ranging from soups, starters, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, pizza, kathi rolls, biryanis, kulchas & naans, noodles, coffees & teas, fruit juices, fermented probiotic non-alcoholic drinks, smoothies & beverages, cakes, desserts and doughnuts.

The cuisines vary from Indian, Mexican, European, Mediterranean, Continental, Chinese, etc. Every dish is made from carefully chosen plant-based ingredients – yes, the biryanis too! “We are popular for our vegan biryanis – prepared and served in earthen pots. Even hardcore meat-lovers drop in here occasionally to relish our mock-meat biryanis. However, we don’t have any bestseller. Every dish of ours has got its own identity and a set of admirers,” he adds.

Dhanesh mostly prefer to experiment with the ingredients to bring out newer versions of popular dishes. Biryanis didn’t find a place in the café’s menu until two years ago. There were no rice items, millets or tandoor either. Sometimes these experiments work and sometimes they don’t.

Ask him about the cost-effectiveness of vegan diet in India and pat comes the reply: “All our Indian breakfasts – like plain dosa, idli and poori– are vegan and cheap. Add ghee, butter, masala, egg or chicken to them and their prices jack up. This is the case with our meals too. Extra curd will cost you more, but not simple dal. This is why people celebrate eating meats and dairy products – because they’re costly. It took generations of systematic efforts like marketing and subsidies to make dairy, poultry and meats cost-effective and yet, they’re not affordable for everyone. If the same thing is applied for vegan diet, it could become cost-effective too. Now that veganism has become a revolution, we may expect this in future. But, my 7 years of experience as a chef-restaurateur taught me that customers do love to spend on a product, as long as it’s worthy. At Terrassen Café, we only deliver the best!”