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With Irani cafes dying in Mumbai, father-son duo keep the tradition alive at their new eatery



With Irani cafes and bakeries dwindling in the city, a father-son duo keep the tradition alive at their new eatery

I don’t promote akoori, but this, I always tell people to try,” says 28-year-old Shapur Meherbani, as he gestures towards a plate of papeta per edu, a quintessential Parsi preparation of eggs and potatoes. We are at Roshan Bakery & Restaurant, a two-month-old eatery which Shapur and his father Farookh opened near Dongri Police Station. With its airy interiors, vintage wooden tables and chairs, and blackboards announcing the day’s specials, the restaurant has an old-world charm.

We dig into the papeta per edu with a freshly-baked pao, straight from their other establishment: the century-old Roshan Bakery in Mazgaon, famous for its breads and baked treats such as coconut bolinas and buttery biscuits. Apart from serving patrons over a small retail counter, they also provide baked treats to institutions such as the Mumbai Port Trust. While the bakery dates back to over a hundred years, 59-year-old Farookh shares that his father Khodayar Meherbani became a partner at the bakery when he moved to India from Iran in 1957. “After buying out all the partners, it is now strictly a family business. My son joined me around two-and-a-half years ago, but that too after a lot of persuasion,” he laughs. “Not a lot of persuasion, though,” retorts Shapur. “After I completed my MBA almost three years ago, I got placed at a firm, but I didn’t take it because I wanted to join the family business and keep the legacy alive,” he adds. Farookh explains that before his son joined, he felt that it was a dying business. “I had seen so many Irani cafes and bakeries closing down, and the ones which are still running are struggling to stay afloat. So I was interested in reviving it,” he says.

When Shapur initially joined his father, he was apprehensive. “I saw my dad’s daily working hours, and got scared. He was working 18 hours a day — which he continues to do,” he explains. While the restaurant might be his crown jewel, Shapur’s first breakthrough was introducing Irani Mughlai rotis at the bakery in Mazgaon. “My dad just gave me 100 sq m of space at the bakery, and said do what you want with it. So I did, and the rotis were a big hit. People would queue up in long lines for it,” he says. This raised an important question — one that would help shape the menu for the restaurant in the future — what to serve with the rotis? “So, we started offering kheema, paaya and nihari,” shares Shapur.

Since the bakery had no seating arrangement, the father-son duo decided to expand and open the restaurant. “We started work on this in November of last year. All I knew was that I wanted the bakery counter and the restaurant to be side-by-side” says Shapur. “This place was in shambles — people were laughing at me. But I looked around and I said, ‘I have a police station next door, there is a railway station near by, and a hospital too’. Why wouldn’t it work?”.

Originally, Shapur wanted the menu to comprise Parsi specials, a few breakfast items, and two-three dishes served throughout the day. “That all changed. We saw that takeaways are popular in the area, so we included Chinese and Tandoor dishes in our menu. The Chinese and biryani combos are in high demand with the office crowd,” he says.

A good Irani restaurant, according to Shapur, is one where anyone can go and spend 20 minutes over a cup of chai. “What is an Irani restaurant? It is open to all kinds of people. Even though I have a dish which is priced at Rs 600, my chai is for Rs 15 only. We aim to serve everyone, from all strata of the society”.

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