The Gujaratis who love to feed you meat
The vegetarian family behind Borivali Biryani Centre talks about how it made the signature Mughlai dish its own while facing flak from the community
Between restaurateur Pradeep Udeshi and his sons, Hardik and Maharshi, it's the former who enjoys giving interviews and interacting with scribes. Incidentally, on the day of our visit to the Chickuwadi outpost, Borivli, the patriarch is away on a court hearing and has delegated the responsibility. For the last three years, the Udeshis, who run Borivali Biryani Centre, have been fighting a legal battle with the Bombay Baking Company over the right to use BBC as the acronym.
Their offerings are poles apart; Bombay Baking Company specialises in croissants, cakes, pastries and beverages, while Borivali Biryani Centre is known for its Mughlai repertoire. And, if you wonder what's in a name, there's a lot riding on it. "We had registered BBC as our trademark in 2006 to distinguish our business from competitors. We won the case with British Brewing Company, and they now calls themselves BBCo.," says Hardik referring to an earlier court battle. Amusingly enough, the story was covered by the British Broadcasting Corporation at the time.
The Russian cutlet has been on the menu since inception
That a global broadcaster was interested in the case is telling of its popularity. After all, how often do you come across a pure vegetarian Gujarati family in Mumbai that rustles up aromatic biryani and makes a roaring business out of it. Their story is what management lessons are made of: Start small, think big. "When we started as a stall outside Borivli station, my relatives were aghast. They would rue, 'Of all things, you had to pick chicken and mutton biryani'," recalls Maharshi, who at the time had graduated from a catering college.
Hardik had just cleared his Class 10 exams. What made matters worse was that the community temple was located right opposite the stall, which meant there was no escaping the taunts. "We were outcasts. My family feared that no Vaishnav family would want their daughter to marry us. We solved the problem by marrying outside," laughs the younger brother. The biryani at the time was priced at R18 a plate, while the chicken lolipop and chicken curry for R3 a piece and R13 respectively. The prices continue to be reasonable to this day. A meal for two will cost you R750.
The Udeshis use the dum pukht method where the ingredients are cooked on charcoal
From four items on the menu, they now have over 80. Despite the array of dishes on offer, chicken biryani reigns supreme. The owners attribute its sustained popularity to the dum pukht method that they have dearly held on to. "It's the delightful aroma that you get on slow cooking the ingredients on charcoal that draws crowds. We make it fresh each day. But it must be consumed immediately, else the flavours tend to go flat," says Hardik, who as a rule, makes rounds of all the outlets on a daily basis. Presently, they have six outlets that they run in Mumbai and Thane.
While the brothers are allowed to eat all the non-vegetarian fare they want, it's to be done outside of home. No chicken or meat is cooked inside. "It's my dad who introduced us to non-vegetarian food. He would take us to street stalls and tell us how to tell a kebab from a tikka," says Hardik. The recipes and techniques were learnt through trial and error, given the fact that they were first generation meat eaters. In fact, in their initial stages, it was not uncommon for customers to even point out to flaws in their cooking.
Brothers Maharshi and Hardik Udeshi at BBC, Borivli. Pics/Satej Shinde
"We were only too happy to incorporate suggestions," he says. Hardik recalls the time when a customer came to the stall and asked him gingerly if the meat was 'chhote ka ya bade ka' (beef or mutton). "I had no idea what he meant. I thought he was referring to the size of the goat. So I said, medium," he laughs. The man duly turned his back on the shop never to return. It's only when the neighbouring watch repair fellow shed light on what the words implied, that Hardik realised the goof up.
In retrospect, the Udeshis feel it was a gamble that paid off. "If you ask me why we chose to invest in a biryani stall, it's because we realised it had potential. We had roamed the area and found that people love eating thela biryani," he says. But the turning point for the Udeshis was a half-page article that appeared in a Marathi daily. "People were intrigued because here was a Gujju family making chicken and mutton biryani. We started getting customers from as a far Virar and even Colaba," recalls Maharshi. The area where the stall once stood now has an under construction tower.
A little away from the current location, they have also launched a new fine-dine under the same acronym. But this one stands for biryani, barbecue, and Chinese. Despite the numerous changes in the menu and decor, there are a few constants. Take for instance, the speech-impaired head chef, Kallu, who has been with the brand since inception. "He wandered into our thela and has stayed with us since. If people like our biryani, he is to thank," says Hardik.
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