“ Varan bhaat (dal rice) and poli bhaaji (chapatti and vegetable) will never go out of fashion as long as Mumbaikars and Mama Kane’s are around,” says Shridhar Kamlakar Kane confidently, about the 107-year-old eatery in Dadar West, Mumbai, opposite the railway station.
He adds: “We are the common man’s restaurant and we serve the food he eats.” The older of two brothers, he now manages Mama Kane’s along with his younger brother Dilip. His uncles Madhusudan and Ramkrishna, still drop by occasionally to oversee things, while his father mentors them from home. “We brothers are the fourth generation running this restaurant,” he declares with pride.
Every day, the place bustles from 10 in the morning when it opens, and endless orders of kande pohe , sheera , misal pav , batata vadas , puri bhaji and tea do the rounds from the kitchen, till the place closes at 9.30 pm.
A foray into food
With no background in the food business, Narayan Vishnu Kane started Dakshini Brahmananche Swacha Uphargriha in 1910 when he migrated to Mumbai after winding up his Ganesh-idol business in Pen. Since there was a paucity of vegetarian eateries in Mumbai serving food from the Konkan region for daily labourers in and around Dadar, he decided to serve them home-cooked meals at affordable rates. His mother and wife used to help in the cooking in those days and their recipes are followed till date. Limited snacks like bhajjis and tea was all that the menu offered back then, yet, the place was always crowded.
In 1928, with the customer base expanding, and upon getting a bigger place on lease, the eatery was shifted from the rental place in the adjacent building to its current location in Smruti Kunj. It was Shankar Narayan Kane, son of Narayan Vishnu Kane, who actually steered this restaurant to success. From 1935 to 1965, he single-handedly managed the restaurant, introducing many much-needed changes. It was he who introduced misal and batata vada , which are the fastest selling items since then.
“For one anna , a single large vada could be enjoyed with the characteristic dry garlic chutney. Even though it is priced at ₹40 a plate now, with two vadas, about 300 plates are sold daily,” Shridhar adds.
Always particular about quality, Shankar Kane would personally go shopping each morning to Byculla Market for fresh ingredients and vegetables.
Around 1935, when Shankar Kane’s nephews addressed him as ‘Mama’, customers too started calling him ‘Mama’ and the eatery then adopted the name Mama Kane’s.
“Catering to demands by customers, the menu got a facelift in the 1960s and ‘70s,” says Shridhar. He adds, “We even introduced South Indian fare, as the South Indian community who migrated here sought that.”
Today, the menu has almost 50 items, including kothimbir vadi , sabudana khichdi , misal pav and rice plates which are full-fledged meals.
Over the years, they have faced manpower problems, and thus have had to downsize their operations in the restaurant. But to keep the business viable, they run two banquet halls too, catering to small functions.
Keeping it simple
But the basic philosophy remains the same. Quality ingredients and hygiene are two aspects the Kanes have never compromised on. “Upon hearing that cold drinks are a health hazard, we stopped serving those in 2007 and introduced our own in-house juices like kokum , aam panna , ginger lemon and amla , made from scratch with fresh ingredients, without preservatives, in the menu section called ‘sheet peye’,” Dilip Kane reveals.
Dilip Prabhavalkar, Nana Patekar and Sudhir Phadke, stalwarts of Marathi stage and films, as well as politician Manohar Joshi, have been frequent visitors over the years, and indulge in simple Maharashtrian delicacies.
“Residents of Dadar, who grew up eating at this place and have settled abroad, still come back when in Mumbai to show their children this place and relive memories,” Shridhar says, emotionally.
Competition has never bothered them, as they believe that they cater to the masses and have a loyal clientèle. “Yes, we feel the need to change with the times and are thus planning to introduce healthy thalis , as people today are more health conscious. We are also updating our website and making it interactive to attract the younger generation, as well as keep in touch with our patrons who are NRIs,” reveals Shridhar matter-of-factly.
As far as the look and feel of the restaurant is concerned, it still has high ceilings, simple wooden furniture and a modest, but clean ambience. “We have never felt the need to modernise it, as our patrons feel comfortable in this atmosphere,” reveals Dilip. He adds, “But yes, small upgrades have been done in the kitchen to serve our customers better.”
Shridhar and Dilip Kane have only daughters and no sons, and yet are confident that “one of the girls in the family will take the restaurant to new heights in the future, as they too have inherited the passion for this family-run business”.
For now, they are more concerned about ensuring their customers leave satisfied, as always.
In this weekly column, we take a peek at some of the most iconic restaurants