A major part of the South Bombay experience revolves around its iconic eateries. From fine dining to shady bars, from kebab corners to Irani cafes, this part of Mumbai is a smorgasbord of gastronomical proportions where lip-smacking food is served with a healthy dollop of nostalgia on the side. But post the six long agonizing months of shuttered existence these city landmarks are today staring at an uncertain future.
As part of Mumbai Unlock 5.0, the city restaurants are now allowed to resume dine-in service albeit at 50 per cent capacity following strict guidelines. But with Mumbai being one of the states in the country that has been consistently topping the charts of Covid-19 cases, not only maximum number of cases as highest number of casualties, not many are willing to risk their lives for a good meal. Also, there is a severe shortage of staff at the restaurants with a major chunk of the city’s migrant workers returning to their native places in the first two months of the lockdown.
Two of city’s oldest Irani cafés, Kyani’s and Café Excelsior are both struggling to keep up with the new normal. Sorakh Shokri, the owner of Kyani’s says, “Our staff belong to Jharkhand and it has been incredibly difficult for them to return to the city. I have asked the staff to return by bus, and I am completely willing to reimburse their expenses to return to the city.”
Business has dwindled for boththese iconic cafes due to the shutting of colleges and offices around the area. Excelsior is frequented by office workers in the Fort area and Kyani’s is a popular hangout spot for the students of St. Xavier’s College.
These cafes have traditionally resisted change and refused to collaborate with the delivery services in the past. “We had a disagreement with a delivery service over GST,” says Anil Mazkoori, owner of Excelsior. But he has no qualms accepting that the little business his eatery is getting is due to the home delivery service.
Mazkoori confirms that Excelsior is now open for dine-in as well, with a 30-50 per cent capacity, while Kyani’s has only opened its bakery section according to Shokri.
Bagdadi, known for its mouth-watering kebabs, has just opened its 80-seater dine-in at a fifty per cent capacity. But they are facing a hard time to procure the most essential ingredient on their menu-meat. The manager at Bagdadi, who goes by the name ‘Bablu’ says, “We purchase all our meat from a wholesaler in Cuffe Parade, but due to the pandemic we have had to shell out a lot more than we normally would.”
Not far from Bagdadi is Café Leopold. And no, it isn’t business as usual there yet. The busy pub now sits almost empty only surviving on takeaways. Rohit Singh, an employee at the café says, “Staff has reduced from eighteen to seven, and business too has reduced by almost the same amount.”
However, close by, Mumbai’s favourite meating place Bademiya is thriving. The iconic eatery has been serving up its regular feastto the nightcrawlers, even amid lockdown.
Fast food in Mumbai is now overrun by foreign chains, but on the lanes and by lanes of Colaba and its adjacent Fort area, one can still sample some of the best street foods that the city has to offer.
Pancham Puriwala opposite CST has survived serving up the humble ‘puri bhaji' for about 170 years. But even this hot favourite is struggling these days. With a seventy per cent reduction in staff, the eatery is only just able to put food out in the form of takeaways. Anupam Sharman, the owner of Pancham says, “We go back six generations, and never have we been in a predicament like this.We cannot count on business improving unless the offices reopen and the train services resume.” The restaurant is hoping to put out plates of piping-hot puris on the tables from this weekend.
Another fast-food joint suffering from similar fate is Jai Jawan Sandwich. The sandwich stall has been standing opposite Sterling Cineplex for half a century. Owner Imran Khan reopened the stall less than a month ago. But business is at an all-time low, to say the least.
One of the city’s most popular vegetarian restaurants is Chetana at Kalaghoda. According to Ashok Tambe, the manager of the eatery and bar has been closed since the lockdown began, and have had absolutely no business. Luckily for the lovers of Chetana’s thalis, the restaurant is reopening on October 17 at fifty per cent capacity.
Mahesh Lunch Home, the seafood restaurant that opened two months ago for takeaways, has seen a massive reduction in staff, partly due to the limited revenue coming in through home deliveries. According to an employee of Mahesh Lunch Home, Sachin Amin, “We have reduced staff from twenty-five to just eight. Both branches of Mahesh have seen massive reductions in staff.” The restaurant now stands open with 33 per cent capacity, not including the staff.
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