Late afternoon on a summer Sunday in Bangalore, and sunlight weaves through the blinds across the crowded tables at Koshy’s Parade Cafe. The waiters in their white uniforms scurry around the tables serving Biryani, Kerala Beef Chilly Fry, Mutton cutlets, late breakfasts, and many cups of coffee. The patrons tuck into their food, sip their cups of coffee and moan about the fact that the prices have been revised upwards, by 25%. Coffee is now Rs 22 a cup.
Koshy’s which comprises of the Parade cafe, the bakery and Chillout (the icecream parlour) is a sixty year old Bangalore institution. It is still family owned, and run by the multi-talented Prem Koshy. Koshy’s has been the place to be seen in, in Bangalore, regardless of who you are / were – intellectuals (or pseudo), writers and authors, theatre folk, photographers, politicians etc. The large hall lacks ventilation, but not atmosphere.
Koshy’s is one among the last set of old world cafes in Bangalore, and perhaps in the entire country where you could sit for hours, let your hair down and pursue intellectual inanities with out the servers hustling you. It has a very strong following (including a facebook fan club), with many of its patrons visiting every day (or every sunday for breakfast) for the last thirty years or even more.
Indian Coffee House, the cooperative run by Indian coffee Board workers, is another such place. It is the largest such chain in the country and is not really going through a great time. Founded in the 1950s, it was a place for cheap food, drink and the meeting place for intellectuals. The local branch in Bangalore was about to get shunted out, but got saved and relocated because of fierce protests from the regulars.
The one is Delhi (in Mohan Singh Palace) somehow survives, but gets stiff competition from the Delhi tourism board run Coffee Home (now about 20 years old) across the street. The one in College Street, Calcutta (I still prefer that name) still serves coffee for Rs 8. Kerala has about 50 branches of the chain, but a large number of them are now losing money. [As an aside – the Thiruvanathapuram one is designed by the famous British Architect – Laurie Baker]
But the rents are increasing, real estate becoming costlier and the lure to shut down or to move to cheaper premises is clear and present. The competition from the Indian chains – Coffee Day, Barista or others like Gloria Jean’s, Costa Coffee (and Starbucks threatening to enter India) and numerous other single store places is palpable. But places like Koshy’s refuse to change or even nudge a bit. Their website (they actually have one) has broken pages and links and might be a reflection of the attitude. The website however, claims “served President Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and visiting dignitaries including Marshal Tito, Nikita Khrushchev and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”. Did that read President Nehru? You read that right!
But the newer chains attract a different type (mostly) of clientele, usually younger who prefer the brighter colors, air-conditioning, newer music and a mocchachino!
The battle is on! Read more in the second part of the post.