Khyber owner's son enters Mumbai's hospitality industry

Sudheer Bahl, who took the baton from his father to run Khyber, passes the power to son Ishaan, who goes global with their latest offering, 145

At the corner where our cab takes a left turn into Kala Ghoda, stands 57-year-old Khyber, known for paneer korma, its signature dish.

Inside MG Road, two buildings away, a brightly-coloured board painted in pink and orange with 145 written in yellow catches our attention. We step into this all-day-café-cum-bar, which opens tomorrow, to chat with its young owner Ishaan Bahl, and his father Sudheer, who owns Khyber. We walk in and take the black stairs up, passing Liv, a nightclub which replaced Redlight in 2011.

Proprietors of Khyber restaurant, Sudheer Bahl and his son Ishaan at 145, which opens tomorrow.
Proprietors of Khyber restaurant, Sudheer Bahl and his son Ishaan at 145, which opens tomorrow. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

“While we are reluctant to make major changes to our menu at Khyber, 145 will be every thing new that we want to try,” says Sudheer, who joined his father OP Bahl in the restaurant business in 1984, after the restaurant was gutted in a fire.
Ishaan, just 22 years old, has donned a deep blue shirt and denims, and has the alert look, common among entrepreneurs. His father, 53, is dressed in a red and blue checked shirt and cowboy jeans, and wears the calm that comes from experience.

“Have you told Ayaz about the windows?” he reminds Ishaan, as he takes a seat at the bar in the second section of the space, ready for the photo shoot. The two share an inside joke, and Ishaan’s smile deepens.

Sudheer Bahl let his son Ishaan review Cheval at Kala Ghoda and come up with a better brand in its space. PIC/SAYYED SAMEER ABEDI
Sudheer Bahl let his son Ishaan review Cheval at Kala Ghoda and come up with a better brand in its space. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Chain of succession
“When Khyber reopened in 1988, we stuck to serving north Indian food, sans the continental menu,” says Sudheer, whose father encouraged him to spend time in the kitchen. “Food is the true story of any restaurant. My father was a food intensive person. He once told me that the outside was just the glamour quotient, the hard part is in the kitchen. If you don’t understand food you won’t succeed. I spent lot of time in the kitchen understanding the food, meeting guests and
developing patience, which is very important in the hospitality industry,” says Sudheer.

Ishaan is armed with a degree in business administration and entrepreneurship from Los Angeles and returned to India last year. “I interned at an investment management firm. I spent my lunch hours visiting restaurants in LA and making notes of everything I tried,” he says.

“When I returned, dad asked me not to join him at Khyber as I would not learn nothing at a place where things were running smoothly. He gave me the reins to develop this space to replace Cheval, which was not doing as well as he had wished. For the first three months, I came here to observe what was not working — the food, turning down customers during banquet orders, a lack of wow factor,” he lists promptly.

Ishaan joined his dad at his office and turned to his food notes for inspiration. “There can only be one leader, and I asked Ishaan to take charge. He is exposed to a global eating culture,” says Sudheer.

And so, 145’s menu boasts of some top picks from LA — animal-style fries inspired from a famous burger and fries joint called In and Out, Quesorito and burritos by Chipotle, bunny chow and a red velvet cupcake ice-cream burger from Sprinkles. “Though the idea to incorporate ice-cream was mine. We okayed dishes that passed both of us. Thanks to my genes, I have a good palate to judge what tastes good. It is not easy to impress dad. I have never met someone who can tell you with precision what has gone wrong with a dish,” the son adds.

The duo short-listed 120 dishes, and began tastings with chefs Amol Patil and Brian Lopes. “We had nearly 30 trials and it was a phase where we ate a lot. Ishaan has a great sense of detail, I can’t do that. I am a big picture guy,” says Sudheer, who credits his wife, Rashmi, for lending a helping hand.

“From food to décor, she has the veto power for all. Ishaan has made a Whatsapp group to keep everyone in the loop. Once in a while my wife messages, “What is this rubbish you are doing? Change this’,” he laughs.

For the food family, 5-5.45 pm is tea time and 8.30 pm is dinner time. “We try not to talk about our restaurants or food, but within 15 minutes the conversation veers towards it,” smiles Ishaan.

More than an eatery
The 22-year-old knows he’s got a rare opportunity. “I am ready to work 18 hours a day to make this work,” says the entrepreneur, who is also going to introduce smoked cocktails for which he has procured equipment from Dubai.

The drinks menu boasts of a Tiramisu cookie dough shot, which we recommend. “For a spicy mojito, we have frozen a chilli in an ice cube. So, as it melts, it adds spiciness to the drink. I’ve also got yard long glasses, Las Vegas Style,” he smiles.
There’s more to look forward to here than just food and drinks, however. 145 gets its name from its location and when we enter, Ayaz Busrai, the man behind the street-inspired décor, is busy with his laptop in a corner.

But the street-inspired installation he has created looks right at us from the ceiling above — yellow smiley balls, scrubs, fire buckets, rackets, kettles, metal vessels make up the circular installation. “The idea was to use all the things we see on the streets,” says Ishaan.

The two are happy to take a shot at the pool table. “We were giving up table space, but we want it to be an engaging eatery. So people waiting for a table can play,” says Ishaan.

Sudheer can see the change. Fifteen years ago, Harry Mulani, of Harry’s fame, came to Sudheer for advice on opening a bar.
“At that time, people didn’t step out of their homes after 6 pm. I told him it was not a viable idea. But, look at the city now. So when Ishaan does alcohol trials, I refuse. I can’t handle it. He’d rather call his buddies,” he laughs.
“From a menu that allows guests to doodle on a menu and wall, we hope 145 will attract people from all age groups,” says Ishaan, who is anxious about the opening.

“I would have opened on a Friday, but Ishaan wants to be thorough and open on a weekday,” says Sudheer.

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