Most restauranteurs have only one motive; profit. In most cases, they succeed and their establishment is deemed “successful”. They thrive for some time and then get replaced by others of its kind.
Then there are those who have other motives; their establishments become Institutions. These places cater to generations.
My journey brought me to Bangalore, southern India’s premier city. Here, as a member of the hospitality industry, I had the privilege and honour to meet a gentleman who is himself an Institution in his own right:
Prem Koshy, owner of Koshy’s restaurant on MG road, by far my new favourite restaurant.
Incidentally, this was my first visit to Bangalore. At first glance, this place seemed just like home to me. Wide roads, criminally expensive public transport, too many cars and way too many micro breweries. But unlike Delhi, everything happens in an orderly manner. Yes, it’s safer for women, has a few lakes and better weather. Apart from that, there’s nothing here that isn’t there in Delhi. MG road, where I stayed, is a well known area in Bangalore; made me think I was back in my neighborhood in south Delhi. It had beer bars, grills with bars and a smaller than usual Hard Rock Cafe. Had I been from anywhere else, maybe this would have been more appealing. The Pink metro rail and Kannada signs reminded me otherwise. Oh, I even got fined for smoking on the road; something I haven’t come across anywhere else in India. Let this be a warning for anyone attempting the same.
Prior to meeting Prem for the first time, I wasn’t too optimistic about what would happen. For the first time in a month, I wasn’t curious nor was I hungry, both essential to be good at what I do. The restaurant is on St Marks Road. Its old fashioned, roomy and charming. Prem and I had spoken on the phone before I asked him to meet me. Being the owner of such a renowned establishment, I was expecting him to be unapproachable and haughty. If a smile made any difference, this one did. For the first time in this city, I felt welcome.
Food is the best ice-breaker there is. It cuts across everything. You don’t need to be an expert to talk about it. I had made friends throughout the country by just talking about what they ate. In this case, I learnt so much more than just food. Prem ordered on my behalf; a perfect medium rare steak named after his son, Joshua. After a mouthful of this, my appetite returned and I had questions, for each of which, Prem had an apt answer.
First things first, I needed to know about Koshy’s city and his legendary restaurant.
Bangalore lies inland, deep within the state of Karnataka. It is considered to be the most cosmopolitan city in India. It is famous for its Information Technology, sometimes even compared to California. Before this, it was a town with very a prominent military history. The focal point being the famous Barracks, located in the heart of the city. The modern representation of it grew out of this center. ‘Koshy’s’ started in 1940. The founder, Prem’s grandfather, was a clerk. He started out as a little bakery. Eventually, in 1952 it became a restaurant catering to important people and some of India’s high ranking officials. Soon, it was serving some of the most important people in India such as the First Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and Nikita Khrushchev, former leader of the former Soviet union. Over the years, ‘Koshy’s’ has been adding things to their menu. Today, it has over 100 things on its menu, covering everything from Indian to European, ensuring there’s something for everyone. Signature desserts and drinks are also loved by its patrons.
The secret to the Koshy family’s success is a simple formula. While modern entrepreneurs find ways to find success, Prem puts age old logic into practice.
What sets Prem apart from others is that he brings something else to the table ; Himself. Everyday.
Whenever that happens, his personality does the rest. The eating experience changes. He radiates positive energy, meeting Prem Koshy becomes a memory. Koshy’s, the restaurant, is proof.
One wonders why a man would do this to himself everyday by choice. Running a restaurant is one of the most dreaded jobs you can have. It brings out the best or worst in people. Others go crazy and quit.
An eating establishment is different from any establishment. The risks associated are tremendous. People’s lives are at stake. At it’s best, a restaurant may dish out perfect food 9 out of 10 times. Unlike other professions, which rely on people sitting on computers all day or those that use technology, which ensure standardized products, a kitchen relies on people who work incredibly hard to do what they do. This is why there’s always this one instant where things don’t go according to plan. This is usually when you see nasty reviews come up everywhere and people go around bad-mouthing the establishment. As the leader such as the manager or owner, its very disheartening when this happens. Prem himself has had many such instances when money has been lean and customers go home unhappy. Sometimes, he smiles even though he doesn’t want to, everyone has bad days, right? He does it not because it’s his job but his duty towards his patrons, to himself and his restaurant. To him, failure is part of his job, just like any other job. So whenever something bad happens, he counts on this passion to turn the tide, which he has mastered by now. He smiles and makes you smile as well. The show must go on, no matter what. To do this, one needs discipline.
This restaurant is a reflection of the city’s growth. As the city expanded so did the menu, adding things to suit everyone’s whims. It became a place where ideas were exchanged, adding to its legacy and feeding minds with food that inspired higher thinking. Today, it has become Bangalore’s most iconic restaurant, thriving as elements from all over made their way into Bangalore.
When I left ‘Koshy’s’, I saw a different side to Bangalore now. Yes, I still think it looks like Delhi. That is because, like Delhi, Banglore has expanded. There are upcoming suburbs common in both cities. People in both cities rely on cars to do daily chores. However, one thing here is different. If ‘Koshy’s’ reflects its namesake, Bangalore reflects Prem. This city has discipline. Its within them. I’m from New Delhi, plus I burn sauté pans for a living. Anarchy is my home.
This place seemed way too stuck up for me. To be fair, I openly issue an apology to anyone who might have disagreed with my initial opinion of Bangalore. In all honesty, meeting Prem made me to do something I hardly did, prior to my visit with Koshy. His presence finally brought a smile out of me. That’s just how positive energy works, I guess. After this, My fortunes changed. Bangalore became nicer to me too. (And I found a shady alleyway to smoke.)
They say memories have more recall value than food, service and decor. It doesn’t make much sense now, so I’ll elucidate this statement; I have photos of the food I ate. I remember how it tasted, not entirely but just. What I do remember vividly is sitting and eating my meal in the company of a person with unparalleled charisma, which actually rubbed off on me. This feeling of being treated like more than just a source of revenue invokes my strongest memory of my meal at ‘Koshy’s’. My host treated me as an equal, as opposed to the feeling of being treated like any other generic customer. Patrons of ‘Koshy’s’ swear by this personal allegiance they have with the establishment, which has grown stronger through the years. Most importantly, meeting him made me feel that I left a better person.
That, is my favourite memory of Bangalore.