There are eateries being opened every day, introducing the city to the latest gastronomic possibilities. At the same time, there are places that have been around forever with a gazillion loyal customers. What makes them tick.
In a rapidly proliferating world of gourmet kitchens and inter-continental fast food chains, there’s a generation of retro-worshippers who can’t let go of the nostalgia associated with our very own breed of Mom and Pop stores and roadside eateries. And thankfully, there are still a handful of them alive and kicking to fuel it.
With the far-reaching effects of travellers’ blogs and local interest, a few of these have come to the forefront and gathered hordes of new, curious customers. But there are a few that dwell comfortably in the dark and yet thrive, thanks to long-serving regulars.
No dizzying choices in menus or stringent rules specifying quantities served in these little eateries.
No glamorous lights to beckon hungry wayfarers or fancy metal-hinged chairs that twirl like stage-shy ballerinas. No beverages frothed up with borrowed essences or eats with delicate touches of modern Master Chefs. No gleaming silverware or sleek decor. Just a simple menu that has existed since its inception, in most cases, and quick service with fresh-made, piping hot food brimming with authentic Karnataka flavours.
Radhakrishna Adiga, who owns his family business, Brahmin’s Coffee Bar in Shankarpuram, said, “We have been in business since January 27, 1965, when my father, the late K.V. Nagesh Rao opened BCB with a humble menu comprising tea, coffee, and a handful of choice bakery items. He included a few authentic South Indian items on the list in 1971, and we haven’t looked back since. Not one change in the menu and in fact, that’s what keeps our customer base strong and hooked. My mother, K. N. Saraswathi, who is over 80 years old supervises the coconut chutney preparation to this date, and our idlis are so soft, they virtually melt in your mouth.”
These eateries are unfazed by the mammoth hoardings announcing the arrivals of exotic bistros and special feasts in renowned star restaurants. With little to no marketing budget, they sustain on word-of-mouth and the brownie points scored with the everyday loyals.
When asked about his advertising strategy, Sandesh Pujari of Central Tiffin Room in Malleswaram laughed and said, “We don’t advertise and don’t have any carefully thought-out strategy or basic plan even. We have been in the news, no doubt, but all because of our delicious food that keeps our customers happy and coming back for more. We also have celebrities like Deepika Padukone who makes it a point to visit whenever she is in Bangalore, raving about us in high profile interviews, so that gives us some push but other than that, we have never believed in proactively promoting our business.”
While the long list of cinematic luminaries in these eateries easily outshines the glare of the neons in newer restaurants, there is one other that boasts of having fed lavish meals and elegant high teas to a bevy of political dignitaries in Raj Bhavan and Vidhana Soudha.
Prakash Cafe, a family-owned cafe and catering business in Chamarajpet, which was started by K. L. Chandrashekhariah in 1943, has fed the likes of the Mysore Maharajas and Eleanor Roosevelt. While the menu has served them well all this while, the prices have been changed a bit in keeping with the costs of ingredients and labour.
Subramanya, one of the partners, was quick to add, “We have faced stiff competition by some new caterers now and then, but we have stuck to our core values and we are happy to retain loyal customers and keep them satisfied. We still cater to Raj Bhavan, for example, and our cafe is always welcome to regular customers who love the simplicity and authenticity of our food.”
Whether it’s the intoxicating aroma of filter coffee that draws the regulars in, or the search for the perfect vadas - crackling crisp on the outside and soft and cottony on the inside, they have customers sticking on steadfastly. With fond memories of being taken to these hidden gems by their grandparents and parents, these eateries have one thing in common that the swanky joints and lounges don’t: the experience of well seasoned cooks.