When Dukes re-introduced its trademark raspberry soda in 2011, it brought the smiles back on the faces of several city residents, who loved their trips to favourite Irani cafés around the corner. These cafés were the perfect place to get one’s fix of this sweet soda.
The fate of these Irani cafés, however, has been on shaky grounds; several have shut down, and chances of their comeback appear slim. In times like these, the news of an Irani café celebrating its 100th birth anniversary comes as a breath of fresh air (freshly baked brun, actually) to those who love the old world charm of the city.
Sassanian Boulangerie near Gol Masjid in Dhobi Talao has much to cheer. “1913 yes…but we don’t know of the specific date, so we are sticking to celebrating it on Navroz tomorrow,” confides 61-year-old Meheraban Kola. Settled in a Polish bentwood chair with a marble-top table, that seated the likes of journalist and writer Behram Contractor (Busy Bee), we sip on our chilled soda, while Kola along with the other partner, 74-year-old Adi Yazdabadi (who resides in the UK) narrate the history of this café named after an ancient Persian empire. Started by Rustom Yazdabadi in 1913 (then known as KR Sassanian), the café had three partners initially, which moved to just the Yazdabadis and the Kolas. It was in 1947 that Kola’s father Khodadad took over the reigns.
Daily bread and butter
Kola, also a one-time college professor, visited the eatery ever since he was kid. Like several other Irani cafés in the city, Sassanian too functioned as a local provision store stocking items of daily necessity, “We sold a lot of Polson butter as we would sell for a smaller margin as compared to other places,” shares Kola. “Meheraban’s father would stock imported chocolates too, stored under his counter cut neatly into pieces, he was lovely person.
As a kid, I remember he would happily give us kids biscuits for free,” says city historian Deepak Rao, a regular at the eatery since his days as a student at St Xavier’s School and College. Yazdabadi’s younger brother Shahrukh Irani (who passed away last year), ran the store along with Kola.
He was known for his jovial nature and was affectionately called ‘Uncle Sam’ by the eatery’s patrons. “Together, we were called the two fatties of Sassanian,” quips Kola. “I went to the UK for my studies and stayed there; it’s what I wanted to pursue; this wasn’t my cup of tea – I told my mother to let Shahrukh run the café,” recalls Yazdabadi.
Shelf life stories
The eatery would open doors at five am, and their breads and brun pavs would be wiped off the shelves in minutes. The eatery was also a place where horse trainers stopped by before their morning training sessions, “It attracted lots of people during the derby days for tips, as everyone knew it was a joint where owners and trainers would visit,” reminisces Rao. Marine Lines railway station, which was previously located much closer to the café, also helped get customers.
But a café can’t survive by just selling chai, bread, omelette and masoor dal. To keep things running, Kola’s wife Ruhangeez assisted him and they turned the café into a boulangerie, selling chicken pattice, vegetarian pattice, pastries, Parsi specialties like dhansak as well as sizzlers and Chinese dishes. The locality with a sizeable Roman Catholic population also demands fresh batches of hot cross buns, cakes, Easter eggs and marzipan during festivals.
Kola, whose children reside in Canada says that after him, he isn’t quite sure about who will man counter at the café, and hopes that it will continue to run, by God’s grace. “He will be the last Parsi standing,” summarises Rao.