Matunga's OGs hit a landmark
As Cafe Gulshan and sister establishment Snowpoint, turn 80 and 30 respectively, the Iranian family behind them remembers a journey of dominating a South Indian locality with standout but humble Mughlai and Chinese eats
A couple of tables from where we sit at Matunga's Café Gulshan, is where actor Shilpa Shetty landed her first Bollywood film. "She was a student of Podar College, and one of the many who spent more time here than in the classroom," laughs Kazim Rahimpur. He remembers Shetty sitting with her mother at their sister establishment, Snowpoint, next door, when they received the confirmation call. "All they told her was that she would be cast alongside a Khan." The movie was the 1993-hit Baazigar starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Rahimpur, 56, and his brother Mohammed Ali, are reservoirs of such trivia. Eighty years of running an establishment comes with its share of stories.
In a fast-changing hospitality landscape, Gulshan is a relic with its bentwood chairs and lazy ceiling fans that whir at whim. The large wooden closets that once lined the walls have been discarded in favour of giant mirrors. The old colonial air, however, belies its rebel streak. "Until three years ago, we had the distinction of being the only eatery to offer non-vegetarian food in a neighbourhood dominated by vegetarians," says Ali with pride about the café that opened in 1940. A stone's throw away are legendary South Indian eateries, including Ram Ashraya, Mani's Lunch Home, Ayyappan Idli Stall and A Rama Nayak & Sons. The Rahimpurs bought the place in 1965 and chose to retain the original name. "My grandfather, who had emigrated to India from Yazd in Iran, purchased the restaurant from a certain Mr Gulshan, who owned a large number of hotels in the area. He ran the place from 1940 to 1964 before selling it to us." The family also opened the first cake shop of the neighbourhood by sourcing a variety of bakes from Venus Cakes. It's a tradition they continue. A section of the restaurant was also converted into a grocery store to hawk breads, chips and essential goods. "It was my father's wish that we offer affordable, everyday items at the restaurant. The reason we still serve them [at these prices] is out of respect [to him]. In fact, we have a license to run a pharmacy, but don't store drugs since there are enough medical stores around," says Rahimpur.
Archival images of customers enjoying a chance to hang at Snow Point in the 1990s
Last year, in the run-up to both establishments' anniversaries, the owners did something that most old-school eateries have shied away from: they went digital. Rahimpur's son Maysam and Ali's son Mobin got together to create and upload a short video on Instagram that encapsulates their hospitality journey over the decades. "We would not have thought of social media if it wasn't for the boys," Rahimpur admits. Since then, the two have been regularly powering the page with content. Along with announcements for discounts on special occasions and sumptuous food pictures, the account offers a glimpse into the glorious past, through shots of youngsters lounging at Snowpoint, or watching a cricket match at Café Gulshan. Hashtags #GulshanAajBhiKalBhi are used to garner traction. For 23-year-old Maysam, getting into the restaurant business was a no-brainer. It's all he has known. "I've seen the effort dad and my uncle have taken to ensure this place stays afloat. It hasn't been easy because of the dearth of manpower, mounting expenses and competition. Of course, I still have the choice of pursuing a career of my choice but I find hospitality fascinating." It's thanks to him that both establishments now accept card and digital payments.
Rahimpur shares that it's Snowpoint that sees more footfalls. "It's almost like Gulshan is for the oldies," he laughs. Launched in 1990, Snowpoint soon became a hipster paradise for its al fresco format, where customers could camp all day. The space shares its walls with Gulshan and a common passage ensures you have access to both. "We started the place to cater to youngsters who were looking for a place to hang. It was an opportunity staring us in the face," he says. The 50-seater has doubled up as a college canteen for students of Ramnarain Ruia College, Podar College of Commerce and Economics and Welingkar Institute of Management Development & Research ever since. Back in the day, they would hold Rose Day celebrations and Christmas parties at the outpost. Although they have discontinued the bashes, students continue to make up the largest chunk of their clientele. "A lot of cricketers, including Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri would frequent our restaurants. But our star attraction was Mithun Chakraborty, who has spent countless hours here," he says. While frankie, sandwiches and pastries dominate Snowpoint's menu, Café Gulshan is famous for kheema pav, biryani and Chinese fare.
Aside from competition, the other challenge facing them is redevelopment. "As of now, we've postponed the discussions. But it won't be long before we are forced to find a temporary location. We are the third generation to run this place and we're not sure if the next generation will even be interested in continuing," says Ali.
Maysam, however, is optimistic that they will continue to serve, albeit in a different avatar. "I'm mulling a cloud kitchen in the interim. We are uncertain about what lies ahead, therefore, we are also considering starting over as a restaurant, while retaining the Iranian aura," he says.
Cafe Gulshan and the neighbouring Snowpoint, have served as college hangout spots for decades
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