To keep a legacy alive
How do owners and founders of culinary landmarks ensure their establishments don't lose its authenticity and magic long after they are gone?
It's been part of my Sunday morning ritual for years now. Breakfast has almost always been a plate of piping-hot medu wada ("Sambhar-chutney, alag" would be the lone request to the staffer) and steaming filter kaapi at Vishwabharati, Mulund's Udipi landmark that has patrons heading here from far-off Bhiwandi and Kalyan. Fuelled by this really happy meal — pun intended and aimed towards the golden arched competitors — I then set out on my weekly chores.
The crisp wadas that I have eaten at this nearly seven decade-old eatery are one of the best in the entire city; foodie friends from SoBo, Matunga (yes!) and the western suburbs, swear by it. Such is their quality check that I have never been served a soggy version irrespective of the hour of the day when I have stepped inside — from my days as a school-going student where we'd head here as a family after Sunday mass, till now. And, in the rare case when the wada batter is over, or if the fried batch is not a fresh one, I am informed that it's better to opt for another item on the menu by the staffer or at times, by the floor manager in person.
A few years ago, when I noticed that the owner, Sudhakar Shetty, who was a constant feature at the counter or would be chatting with patrons across the floor, hadn't been seen for a while, I checked with his Man Friday. To my utter shock, I was informed that he had passed away after an illness. Just like the Shetty-Udipi connect, Mulund has had a long association with Gujaratis and Jains. Old-time Mulundwallahs will vouch for their entrepreneurship as having played a pivotal role in establishing it as one of the most prosperous suburbs on the eastern line. Likewise, their love for dining out meant that Vishwabharati's menu had to have a sugar-induced leaning. "We use jaggery in our sambhar as a better substitute for sugar, which contains chemicals. "Our sambhar is made slightly sweeter; and there's no garlic for our coconut chutney," Shetty had revealed to us in 2011 in an interview for this newspaper. His masterstroke along with the all-vegetarian menu continues to make Vishwabharati a hit with the community. And, Shetty always prided himself on speaking in fluent Gujarati, which he did with many members of the community who had businesses in the area.
That morning, the sambhar was savoured with a lot more intent, and as we tucked into the wadas, they tasted like plump little chunks of heaven. Mr Shetty's stamp was still around, long after he was gone. Clearly, his legacy seems to have been ingrained in each of his staff members, at the counter and in the kitchen. We looked around and the place was buzzing as it would be on any Sunday morning. Apart from his presence, we would have never imagined that he had passed on. And that is something salute-worthy — to ensure that a legacy stays on despite the person's passing.
This legacy is what we hope remains in establishments like Café Britannia that is nursing the loss of its co-founder and ambassador Boman Kohinoor who passed away last week. Its berry pulao might have been their piece-de-resistance but it was 'Boman Uncle' who stole the show with his personality, his charm won over countless patrons who would walk into the landmark eatery in Ballard Estate.
With iconic eateries shutting down (Paradise, Bastani, Flora, Samovar and countless others) or being bought over by new names (Alps) it's a constant challenge to keep culinary legacies in this city alive. But with the case of two iconic eateries at two ends of this city — Vishwabharati and Café Britannia — there is hope and a message for others. With their astute business acumen and vision, both owners have ensured and insured that their labours of love remain how they had envisioned it to be to every patron that steps in for a warm meal and a welcoming vibe.
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
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