When Buhari hotel on Anna Salai threw its gates open to the public in 1951, it ushered in a number of firsts: espresso machines making cup after cup of steaming coffee, a jukebox playing tunes of the times, and cutlery and crockery brought from London to give a “fine-dining experience to Madras’ foodies.”
A.M. Buhari, who brought the mildly spiced, fragrant biryani from Colombo, was a pioneer of sorts. Whether it was a boiled egg nestled in a bed of saffron-infused rice or Chicken 65 fried to perfection —called thus after the year it was created in, he set himself apart in the restaurant business early on.
The brand Buhari that has now become synonymous with biryani in the city emerged out of 200 different blends Mr. Buhari experimented with.
As a ten-year-old, Mr. Buhari had to leave his village in Tirunelveli district and go to Sri Lanka. After a self-sponsored education, it just took a few years to figure out his calling. Starting with trading in food and groceries, he finally set up Hotel De Buhari in Colombo and introduced the brand’s eponymous dish.
“My grandfather then wanted to return to India and came to Madras to set up Buhari,” says Nawaz Buhari, who currently heads the original branch. Today, the brand has proliferated with nine branches in the city and is looking to set up four more in the near future.
While the Anna Salai branch is its most famous, the one at Marina, set up in 1956, became the popular hangout of the 60s and 70s.
Seventy-year-old A.H. Lathif, as famous as the restaurant, has worked in the restaurant for 54 years. “I have served actors Raj Kapoor, Sivaji Ganesan and Sridevi,” he says.
Having lost the branch at Marina beach in the 80s, and the one opposite Central station very recently, the brand, headed by the patriarch till the time of his death in 1996, is now run by the family’s third generation.
With the increase in the number of branches, there are, predictably, differences in the quality and taste of the biryani. “The family has taken a decision to never go for the franchise model of business, because we cannot compromise on the brand image my grandfather worked so hard to build,” says Mr. Nawaz Buhari.