Restaurants by Monish Gujral

Economic times – ET Sunday – Old Tastes, New Look – The New Indian Khanna

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Moti Mahal Delux Tandoori Trail keeps the legacy of Moti Mahal of yore alive in its trademark butter chicken gravy, invented by its founder Kundan Lal Gujral.The foodies of the world are a fanatical lot. They won’t hesitate to raise a fork if tastes are compromised. They are perspicacious about palate, fixated on flavour and are actually taste tyrants. And they are hung up on heritage. Talk to any food lover worth his salt (and pepper, condiments and assorted seasonings) and they will have their age-old favourites pat down.

Taste traditions appeal to them and they are almost territorial about them. When Khan Chacha, a popular roll kiosk in Delhi’s tony Khan Market , was forced to shut shop, the Capital culinaires took to the web to get the rolls back on roll.

Soon after, Khan Chacha reopened in a souped-up avatar in the same market with proper restaurant seating, the traditionalists boycotted the place for going commercial. Such is the lot of the food fanatics. But the khandani restaurants have realised the need of the hour is to evolve or perish. And they would go for the former, patronage be damned. A delectable dilemma, you would say. Not quite. Because spearheaded by a brave new leadership, khandani restaurants are expanding, keeping the original intact and actually separate.

Case in point: Ananda’s, a fine dining restaurant by Indian sweetmeat major Nathu’s. Since 1936, Nathu’s has a legacy of over seven decades of sweets and chaat—it’s the halwai shop to beat all halwai shops. This year the chain launched Ananda’s named after their MD Anand Gupta in Delhi’s posh Sunder Nagar market. “Ananda’s has an identity quite separate from that of Nathu’s,” says Dr Rajesh Grover, consultant with the chain. “People frequent Nathu’s for its speciality—Dillli-6—items but we wanted to get into the fine dining segment,” he adds.

Fine dining is what Akashh Kalra of United Coffee Home (UCH) had in mind when he launched Sequel by United in the Capital’s food mecca Defence Colony. But where Ananda’s separates itself from its parent, Sequel is still holding the UCH hand. “It’s a continuation of the journey started by my family in 1942, hence it’s a sequel,” Kalra tells us. In fact, even the cuisine served at Sequel is an extension of the global fare that UCH is so famous for. Then why not continuing the UCH lineage. “Many of the UCH clientele is 70 plus or have stopped eating out. We feel the need to forge a new identity and connect with the under 35 lot that is now emerging as the main spenders on eating out.”

It’s to cater to India’s growing young population that these age-old eateries are going for a young and fresher branding. According to the white paper, brought out by management consultancy firm Technopak, the restaurant industry is growing at 5-6% per annum and its current revenues amount to Rs 43,000 cr. Combine this with changing consumer profiles, higher disposable incomes, greater exposure to multiple cuisine and changes in lifestyle, the Indian restaurant industry is on a growth course. It’s this change that the old eateries are ready to channelise.

It’s not just the Capital undergoing the culinary revolution, Kolkata and Chandigarh too are in the foray. One of the most popular chains in Kolkata, Shiraz Golden Restaurant , set shop in 1941 with its head khansama Shammuddin being a direct descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s royal kitchen. Over the years, the Mughlai restaurant kept reinventing itself—first starting as an unassuming beef joint, later christening itself as Golden Restaurant in 1956 and soon changing to a no-beef restaurant.

Today, it is trying to go beyond its casual, no-frills trappings and incorporate a modern ambience to keep pace with present preferences, especially those of the youth. Plus, expansion is on the cards. “We gradually want to move into districts and smaller cities in West Bengal after which we plan to enter neighbouring states like Orissa,” says Ishtiaque Ahmed, chief executive officer of the eatery. The brand already has four restaurants in Bangalore under the brand name Lazeez.

In a bid to keep pace with increased health-consciousness, Shiraz is looking at offering more healthy options on its menu—something that Monish Gujral of Moti Mahal Delux (MMD) is championing through his MMD Tandoori Trail. “The restaurant-going audience today is more health conscious than those since my grandfather’s day.” Enter more grills and tandoori items on the menu, including seafood in the MMD outlets in the coastal areas. The chain started in 1920 in Peshawar and Gujral’s grandfather is arguably the inventor of the butter chicken gravy.

The diversification, Gujral contends, has only added to brand Moti Mahal that has 77 outlets pan India and in the Middle East and is now considering opening in the US and Europe. In fact, Gujral even plans to carry the legacy of Moti Mahal qawalli culture further by taking out qawalli cassettes in collaboration with T-Series. Talk about new avenues, which is what the India’s oldest fast food restaurant chain Nirula’s is seeking under it’s new head Samir Kuckreja. The 33-year-old chain has undergone a revamp and is on an expansion spree pan India. In 2007, the chain revamped both its quick service and casual dining restaurants and opened new flagship outlets in Delhi and also created new food retail formats like Express outlets, ice cream kiosks and fuel station outlets.

“Nirula’s as a brand has repositioned itself as the preferred choice for young adults who love to eat out with friends or family,” says Ritu Choudhri, vice-president, marketing, Nirula’s. “The rebranding has definitely not worked against the older brand because we have retained our existing brand loyalists.” Loyalty is least of the concerns for restaurants in revamp/rebrand mode. Like Chandigarh’s fast food staple Hot Millions that started with an ice-cream parlour in 1979 in the planned city by Lt Col Anant Bir Singh and wife Mohini.

Today with 15 company and franchisee owned restaurants currently operational in the region and USA,the restaurant chain is now planning to enter the Delhi-Jaipur market. “The trend of rotating tables is over as customers now want to spend leisure time and want an experience of the food, drinks and the place. Catering to this new segment we are coming with two new joints in Chandigarh with higher service standards and different cuisines,” says Capt (retd) Mohanbir Singh, proprietor of the brand. The chain currently has quick service restaurants and mid level fine dining.

“There have been nearly two decades of rotation of clientele with younger patrons coming up who are in their mid 20s or 30s and who are not aware of the old branding,” Kalra mentions in plainspeak. It’s this young India that the old eateries are targeting. Like we said, progress or perish.

(With inputs from Sreeradha D Basu, Kolkata & Madhvi Sally, Chandigarh) Moti Mahal Delux Tandoori Trail keeps the legacy of Moti Mahal of yore alive in its trademark butter chicken gravy, invented by its founder Kundan Lal Gujral.

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