Fiona Fernandez: Wake up and smell the cafe

Mar 20, 2017, 06:35 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Family-run community eateries need Gen-Next to insure their survival and ensure it stays relevant in today's competitive times

"If only our Irani cafés had a similar lifeline..." sighed a Bawi friend, after we had narrated the entrepreneurial strides taken by the Kamaths, who own Cafe Madras in Kings Circle.

The friend would know, after having witnessed many such SoBo establishments shutting shop because the next generation had either moved overseas or wasn't keen to take the legacy forward.

Others might have fallen prey to real estate sharks or civic development projects, Crown Bakery being one such casualty that comes to mind.

Modern touch to tradition But in the buzzing central suburb, things were looking up. Riding on a smorgasbord of ideas conceived by the younger generation of the family, they had opened a swish food store right beside the popular establishment that has been serving typical South Indian fare for decades together.

The new spot is an indie curatorial superstore as well as a takeaway for Indian and Continental gourmet-style veggie fare, all rolled into one.

"Our shelves will stock fresh food created by talented home chefs and also showcase some of India's finest produce," added third-generation owner, Devrath Kamath, days before the store's opening.

He along with older brother Jaiprakash have plans to make it a hub for community-driven culinary ideas, a breeding ground where traditional and modern food will share shelf space. It was an impressive leap of faith, and a healthy sign of looking into the future. We were also privy to thoughts of taking the grand old cafe to the next level, but with a cautionary "not anytime soon" disclaimer.

New wave
Such success stories of community-driven exercises are far and few across Mumbai's dynamic, competitive food and drink space, and hence need to be celebrated.

After all, we now live in a city that is fast losing its rich, multicultural charm. Food is one such benchmark to track this, and more often than not, we've witnessed or heard of the end of such spaces due to lack of support from the next generation.

While we are all for freedom to follow one's chosen career, family-owned enterprises, and this many readers would agree, tend to get intertwined with the neighbourhood and its population due to their longevity.

In the bigger picture, they become symbolic and emblematic of society. London's corner shops, owned by Asians, are something that fall in the same league.

It's a tricky one, this, as a friend who is part of a family-run business admits. And yet each time we hear of another six-decade-old Irani cafe or Udipi restaurant shutting down, it means the loss of a thread from the city's multi-coloured fabric.

But right now, we'd much rather focus on the new energy. And hope that more such family-run establishments take a cue from it.

What was reassuring throughout our time was the positive vibes that emanated from both spaces - the strong whiff of filter coffee in the old, and that of the freshly painted interiors in the new. Instant coffee never tasted so good.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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