Food

Trace the journey of Mumbai’s iconic Pritam Hindu Hotel

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When Prahlad Singh Kohli started a small eatery called Pritam Hindu Hotel in Dadar in the 1940s, little did he envisage that he was laying the foundation for a hospitality chain

A dhaba conjures images of a rustic eatery on a highway, with charpoys and robust Punjabi food; usually a pit stop for truck drivers. Yet, Pritam the Dhaba, the first proper dhaba in Mumbai, is right in the heart of the city in Dadar East. Although a separate entity, it is literally the outdoor section of Pritam Restaurant and Bar, which was originally Pritam Hindu Hotel, started in 1942.

Flashback

Picture this: In 1942, after successive failed attempts at starting a restaurant in Chira Bazaar, Kalbadevi, a dejected Sardar couple Prahlad Singh Kohli and Harkaur Kohli, from Rawalpindi (then undivided India), are walking down the lanes of Dadar East with a trunk in hand. They are unsure of their future and look tired, when a Sardar doorman on the opposite side of the road, beckons them to come and eat. During the course of their conversation, Prahlad expresses his desire to open a small restaurant and his host then goes on to help him procure a place... the rest, as they say, is history.

Octogenarian Kulwant Singh Kohli, son of Sardar Prahlad Singh Kohli, who joined his father in the 1950s, recently passed away, handing over the baton and a rich legacy to his eldest son, 66-year-old Amardeep Singh Kohli, younger son, Gurbaxish, and grandson Abhayraj.

“Although I have been in the business assisting my father since 1976, and my brother too has been with me since the 90s, we have big shoes to fill,” says Amardeep.

Trace the journey of Mumbai’s iconic Pritam Hindu Hotel

Reminiscing about his dynamic grandfather, he says, “A rebel by nature, he did not want to pursue the family business of exporting fruits from Rawalpindi and landed up in Bombay instead. Once the place was confirmed, with second-hand wrought iron furniture bought at ₹100 in one day, his own managerial skills and my grandmother’s cooking prowess, they started their small, dream restaurant.”

The patriarch, who started the business, wanted a name that meant ‘beloved’ in many Indian languages and hence the name ‘Pritam Hindu Hotel’ came about.

“Sardar taxi drivers, who ate daily at Pritam Hindu Hotel, became our brand ambassadors and our popularity grew,” says Amardeep.

Growth and expansion

Kulwant, an educated young man, brought about some much-needed changes to Pritam Hotel, upon taking charge. “He introduced air-conditioning and even butter chicken to the city,” Amardeep declares with pride.

With several studios then located in the vicinity, actors began frequenting the place, as they craved for home-style, affordable Punjabi food. From Raj Kapoor to Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra to Rajendra Kumar, Pritam Hotel played host to most of the stars and the affable Kulwant knew them all personally.

Chicken tandoori, mutton masalewala, seekh kebab, two seasonal vegetables, dal, rotis, phirni, were all the meagre but robust menu offered in the 1950s. “Every dish was priced at ₹2 or ₹3, rotis were for an anna, and dal was free. One could eat two meals for a month safely at ₹38 or so,” states Amardeep.

Upon completing his graduation and then his culinary training from Dadar Catering College, Amardeep, fondly called Tony, stepped into the business in 1976 and ensured Pritam was even more professionally run, bringing with him his inimitable creative touch.

As the hotel gained popularity, the Kohlis expanded the place by buying out neighbourhood properties to start a typical Punjabi-style dhaba in 1985 — a gift by the sons to their father Kulwant, on his return from the US after a surgery. They also launched a full-fledged four-star residential Hotel Mid-Town Pritam in 1988.

Every member of the staff stood the chance of donning the chef’s toque, if he displayed the zeal to learn and work hard. Given this benevolent attitude of the management, the staff is loyal and tends to stick around for years. Amardeep recalls, “My grandmother even trained her house help Hari Singh, an enthusiastic Bengali boy, who went on to become the executive chef and was with them till 1977 when he passed away.”

Way forward

“We are constantly adding new dishes to our menu, introducing new equipment and trying to keep ourselves relevant. The fourth generation has now stepped in, as my son Abhayraj, joined us in 2015 and there is no stopping us,” Amardeep says excitedly.

Under Kulwant Singh Kohli, Pritam Hotels expanded, Amardeep and Gurbaxish added Pritam the dhaba and Abhayraj, Grandmama’s café and My Regular Place. Nothing comes easy and each one has to prove themselves, by adding to the group. That is what the founder, Prahlad Singh Kohli taught them, and clearly, each generation takes it seriously.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:13:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/trace-the-journey-of-mumbais-iconic-pritam-hindu-hotel/article30047061.ece

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