Famed Independence-era restaurants in Connaught Place, now Rajiv Chowk, which were once frequented by diplomats, politicians and film stars are now fighting a grim battle for survival.
The challenging times have pushed a large number of restaurants to their edge. But, not all are despondent: the owner of United Coffee House (UCH) is optimistic about the future.
“We are looking at the post-COVID era rather than sulking about it,” said Akash Kalra, a third-generation entrepreneur, who has been running the restaurant for over three decades.
There is a need to create an impulse in the mind of people to get motivated to come to the restaurant again, he said.
Pan to 1942. United Coffee House attracted an eclectic crowd, from painters, philanthropists, journalists, politicians, to film stars on premiere nights. The eatery is a witness to the city’s changing landscape and food culture.
“From the Gandhis, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh to the Who’s Who of that time, everyone used to come to the restaurant. Celebrated painter M.F. Hussain would visit it at least once a month,” said Kalra.
Celebutante like Guru Dutt, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor were patrons. “Back in time, after the premiere in Connaught Place’s cinema halls, high-tea parties would be held in our restaurant,” said Kalra.
People used to come to the restaurant to find inspiration but yet used to remain in peace with their own company, he added.
The storied restaurant caught the fancy of many and became famous for its mouth-watering keema samosa, nargisi koftas and mutton curry.
Seventy-eight years later, who would have thought that such a restaurant would dawn a deserted look and the sound of energetic conversations would be replaced by silence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast its malefic shadow on other restaurants in the area. The Embassy, in D Block of Connaught Place, is another independence-era restaurant that is facing the brunt of the lockdown.
It was once frequented by Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra, Lord Mountbatten, Arun Jaitley and Sheila Dixit, among many others among India’s rich and powerful, stylish and famous ï¿½ drawn by the reputation of mutton chops, the signature Embassy samosa, murgh musallam and dal meat.
Kumar Savar Malhotra, P.N. Malhotra’s grandson, who now runs the restaurant said, “Besides our restaurants, there are other three vintage restaurants, such as United Coffee House, Kwality and Host in the capital city. They are synonymous with Delhi and must be supported by the government during the challenging times.”
Malhotra has sought government’s intervention for an immediate relief and revival of the industry.
“There has been no support from the government as to how we are going to function after the lockdown or even any monetary support. It is said that there are seven million people employed in the food and beverages industry. They cannot be left to rot just like this,” he said.
Patrons say fear of infection from the COVID-19 virus in closed, crowded places can keep them away. The coming days will show whether things improve.