Three iconic eateries - which once defined eating out in Mumbai - down their shutters, defeated by inflation and the craze for firangi fast food
The lost order
Posted On Friday, April 19, 2013 at 03:14:29 AM
Three venerable restaurants that have for decades served authentic Maharashtrian and south Indian meals and snacks for less than the price of a small Starbucks cappuccino have been forced out of business by the city's growing appetite for fast food chains. While Vishwa Mahal (Mulund) has already reopened as a McDonald's, Mahabhoj (Matunga) is being turned into a fast food restaurant. Dattatray (Shivaji Park), meanwhile, is on its last legs and has announced that it will close next month. It will reopen as a branch of HDFC Bank.
“Rs 50 a thali was bleeding me. I tried my best to sustain it, but finally gave up,” said Sachidanand Shetty, owner of Mahabhoj, which he opened in 1942 as the South Indian Family Mess. It originally sold packed rice before being turned into a eatery. Mahabhoj, its final avatar, was known for its economical South Indian thali of dal, sabzi, rice, chapatti, curd and papad.
Shetty added, “The rise in gas prices, shortage of labour and sky-high prices of vegetables are the major factors that forced me to shut Mahabhoj. My father used to sell packed rice here before Independence and I turned it into an eatery. People used to crave our rice plate, which we served with freshly cooked veggies. But with high inflation, labour is getting more expensive and difficult to find. I'm left with no choice but to join the fast food bandwagon. Even my daughter prefers fast food over a healthy thali."
Mahabhoj, now being renovated, will reopen as Cafe Greens & Beans, a fast food restaurant, in a few months. “I have outsourced the cuisine to an expert who has knowledge of international cuisines, which I don’t,” Shetty added.
Vishwa Mahal, Mulund
Manhohar Shetty, owner of Vishwa Mahal restaurant at Mulund, which opened in 1964, echoed these sentiments. “This business had became a headache for me. You put in all your energy, time and money for measly returns. To keep up with changing times we had even started serving Punjabi and Chinese dishes, but eventually the business became unfeasible. I tried my best to continue our ancestral business but the fact is the returns were poor. Finally, last June, I leased out my place to McDonald's. Today, I earn more than I used to, and without wasting my time and energy,” said Shetty.
Dattaray, Shivaji Park
Meanwhile, Dattaray, the iconic eatery at the Sena Bhavan junction at Shivaji Park, turns 60 on May 4. By the end of May, it will have shut down. Owner Prakash Wagle has leased it out to a bank. Always well-known for its authentic Maharashtrian fare, Dattaray's fame shot up after former Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray developed a taste for its batata vada and kotambir vadi.
Owner Prakash Wagle said, “This business was started by my father in 1953 and I joined him a few years later. I am 60 now; both my daughters are well-settled and have little interest in running this business. Also, with the current levels of inflation, I have no choice but to close the business. At one point, I had four waiters per shift. Today, I am just left with two. There were times I had to personally clean the tables. But this is no longer possible as I am too old."
Wagle, smiling ruefully, said many of his loyal customers are distraught at the news, but added, “I will make more money by leasing out the place than I do now."
Some fight on
While Mahabhoj, Vishwa Mahal and Dattatray have been forced out of business, other iconic eateries continue to flourish. These include Mani’s, Café Mysore, Rama Nayak’s and Rama Ashray (all in Matunga).
Devrath Kamath of Cafe Madras said, “Three generations of our family have run this restaurant. It is a family business, and not run by any manager. Ours is a very small set-up and our prices are reasonable, so we make a profit. It is all about the way you manage things." Café Madras, which has been serving melt-in-the-mouth dosas since 1940, dishes 200 to 300 of them a day.