Remembering Crown, Mahim

The iconic Crown Bakery in Mahim has made way for the Metro Line 3 project and locals have been ruing the end of the 63-year-old institution reports MumbaiMirror.

“Generations have grown up eating its brun maska and kheema pav, and spending leisurely evenings sipping on Irani chai” recalls  Roy Pereira.

Nandakumar Vijayakar echoes his sentiments. “Now no more queues for fresh hot pav, no more chicken cutlets, no more rum cakes,” he laments.

Established in 1954 by Khodaram Golabi, and later run by his grandson, Rohinton Khosravi and his elder brother, Crown Bakery Stores and Restaurant served generations of Mahim locals.

We remember a memorable afternoon spent at Crown some years back here
You can read a little more on Crown falling victim to the Metro project here
And there's a video from the folks at Mumbai Live here.

top : the remains of Crown Bakery, Stores and Restaurant January 2018, courtesy Mansour Showgi Yezdi. 
bottom : Crown Bakery, Stores and Restaurant, March, 2009.


"I still shiver" : Dongri : Cafe Johnson and the riots of '92/'93

Twenty five years have passed since the Bombay riots of late 1992 and early 1993. Media coverage today saw us reflecting on this and remembering an interview we did with Hormaz Irani whose father Aspandiar and uncle Behram opened Café Johnson bang next to Sandhurst Road railway station in 1937.

For Hormaz, the closure of his café for weeks during the riots of ’92 and ’93 brought home what he had quietly known for some time - the impending final closure of the family business was nearer than farther.

I told my wife at that time that it wouldn’t be long, not much longer. When I sent the staffs back home to their native place I didn’t even know if we would reopen the shop. Very bad time. I had to shut down my restaurant, or else, eh, see my staff were all Muslim. They were pretty close of being killed also. For maybe a month the restaurant was shut and my shop servants used to come to my house, I, my wife used to cook food and give them. 

For 3 or 4 days  when everything was normal then I could return to the railway station, I bought their tickets, and put them in the train, and told them from here now God is with you, you can go back to your village. They’re all from Kerala.

I still shiver when I think of those days. Very bad. I just praying to God that I should be successful in saving, I had ten people. Ten people who were working in my restaurant by God’s grace I saved them and then I sent them back to their village.

Things were getting pretty bad, very bad to the extent that, instead of earning something out of it, I had to put money from here [a refrigeration business he still operates] over there [the café]. What I was earning here I had to put it over there to maintain that, that’s all.

While he did reopen Café Johnson, the death of his father in 2000 gave him license to lease the shopfront to an emerging supermarket chain which he was able to do in 2006.

I was happy as well as sad. Sad in the sense that er, I had to close down my Dad’s business and happy in the sense now I had to do it for good because the future generation also has to survive. I was happy that way. 

No hope of survival at all with respect to the menu what we had, unless you specialise, like the, the other cafes which are based in very good areas like Colaba and Chowpatty and all.

 If you have those kinds of menus and those class of people and come and pay and buy those high quality stuff, then you can survive. Dhansak and liquor and beer and all that. Yes. Then, only then, can you sell that but in the old menu we were having you can’t survive.

The supermarket chain that leased the site from Hormaz when he closed in 2006 didn’t stay and the site has seen several different businesses come and go in recent years.

From an interview with Hormaz Irani, Dongri, Mumbai, 2008.

IMAGES, top to bottom  :
- Cafe Johnson, Dongri, circa 2005 by Atul Sabharwal, used with permission
- Subhiksha supermarket on the site of Cafe Johnson, 2008
- News reportage on the riots featuring Brarbourne Restaurant, Dhobi Talao, December 1992


"Serving up a legacy" : Kyani & Co., Metro

Mini Ribeiro of The Hindu paid a visit to Kyani this week to soak up what she calls "...a heritage treat for old-timers and newcomers".  . You can read Mini's piece here. An interview we did in 2007 with the late Aflatoon Skokri who ran Kyani - for over 50 years - can be found here  .

IMAGE : Kyani & Co., Dhobi Talao courtesy The Hindu, 2017.


Taking time out to walk through retroscapes and consume nostalgia. .

We are taking a little time out from Irani Chai, Mumbai to continue our research in different ways, part of which sees us walking through retroscapes and consuming nostalgia like we never have before, on three continents! We will see you again sometime in 2017, so do check-back from time to time!

We'll leave you for now with Darius Cooper's lovely piece Don’t Worry Darling, We Have a Legend and a History, Too from his wonderful anthology Beyond the Chameleon's Skill.  The upstairs 'family room' of the Bombay Irani is the setting for the poem; a space where for the cost of a couple of refreshments time could stop for a while and couples could retreat, albeit not completely.  The eyes and ears of the café waiter were never too far away.

This city, fed
on rumours and insults,
and customarily
so indifferent to truth,
becomes inquisitive
you fall in love.

But don't worry darling,
we have a legend
and a history too.

Cobblers wait
for the straps of her slippers
to break.  Then,
sly glances can be stitched
into leather.

Grasping the main bell
of the temple
we daily pass,
the devotees suddenly pause.
The idol is in front.
You, both, are behind.
To-day, for whom,
shall this bell
be rung?

You have looked at the sun enough.
It's time for privacy
on the first floor
of non-descript restaurants.
These do have names -
"A Star of" ...something or the other,
and since this is the first time,
for you, that's symbolic

The staircase
to the dingy first floor
is perilous,
but so is your love,
strangely assured
by a chair, a corner,
and an ancient marble-top table
with a crack
running down the center.

This strange earthquake
into which
your innocence
suddenly opens,
makes your foothold
all the more firmer
in climbing these stairs.

The ceiling is very low.
You are warned
about hurting your head.
But you disregard the sign.
After all
this is only
the first floor.

The smirk
on the waiter's oily face
has to be tolerated,
like the surfeit of sugar
in that badly served
cup of coffee -
its coarse cream
forming on the rim
of a difficult day
divided by
crowds, and

Time is short for awkwardness,
so you kiss,
waiting for her hair
to tumble out
of the rubber band.
It does,
and your face,
tenderly draped
behind her saree's border
will be carried
home soon,
and repeatedly kissed,
the saree folded
over a late evening hanger.

Two-thirty noon!
It's time to leave
your "star of" ...something
or the other.
And after you leave
the table is wiped clean,
and the chair,
put properly in place.
Only the crack
across the table remains
carrying traces
of your breadcrumbs
and orange bottle rims
miraculously missed
by the waiter's duster.

And who will come after you,
and what traces they will leave behind
in that crack,
it really does not matter.

Like us, my darling,
they have a legend
  and a history too.

- Image : King Edward Restaurant and Stores, Fort, Bombay, 1970s by Pablo Batholomew © Pablo Bartholomew

- Poem : Like Us My Darling, They Have a Legend and a History, Too Darius Cooper from Beyond the Chameleon's Skill, Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2011. © Darius Cooper.


Entrepreneurial spirit. .

A nice piece on Mumbai's Irani cafes by Michael Snyder accompanied by Hashim Badani's sterling images appears in this month's Virgin Australia Voyeur magazine.



1934 : a "Peculiar Gift". .

It’s been a few years since we first came across this gem; please forgive our tardiness in sharing it with you :-)
The writer of the Indian National Congress Guide for delegates in 1934 to its significant meeting in Bombay that year let it be known – without reservation – that the city’s Irani restaurants were a peculiar gift of Bombay to civilisation…more than a restaurant. What strikes the visitor is not the service the place gives, but the wonderful cosmopolitanism of it. 
The guide’s beaming evaluation of the corner Iranis of the city continued the Irani…has done more to break down orthodoxy, tradition and racial and religious aloofness than any social institution.

Wow, we thought to ourselves when first reading this amid musty dusty library shelves. For the author of the 1934 guide appears to be consciously constructing an image of the Irani café as an open, tolerant space – where one could avail oneself of tea and snacks {and other assorted products} no matter who you were or what your religious or ethnic background. 

One of the earliest references we have located that positions the Irani café as a space of tolerance and multi-ethnic cosmopolitanism. 

Image : 
Indian National Congress Committee. 1934. Congress Guide. Bombay.


Poetic License does B. Merwan

Ritesh Batra and Poetic License hosted another of their nights at beloved Grant Road Irani B. Merwan this week.

Farah Khan spoke.  So did Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Here’s a video diary of the event - with thanks to bLOGiMLY who was there on the night!


Ritesh Batra and Poetic License embrace Mumbai's Irani cafes

Ritesh Batra, director of hit flick Lunchbox says he is out to save Mumbai’s Irani cafes. Those that are still left, anyhow.

To that end his production company – known as Poetic License – will be hosting events at Irani cafes from time to time. The first event was held at Ali and Aamir Irani’s landmark Café Koolar at Kings Circle. Events at Kyani in Dhobi Talao and Café Excelsior in Fort followed soon after. 

More info here :


IMAGE : Ritesh Batra with Radhika Apte and Kharat Kataria upstairs at Kyani, Dhobi Talao. Courtesy K. Ahswin of IndianShowBiz.com


BBC World chows down at Britannia!

BBC World paid a visit to Britannia, Ballard Estate this week.


UPDATE! B. Merwan, Grant Road : staying open, for now

That's right, Grant Road's iconic B. Merwan is not closing down, just doing some maintenance we are told. So the cafe is staying open, at least for now. And that's good news!

IMAGE : B. Merwan, Grant Road, 2014. Photographer INDRANIL MUKHERJEE, 


"old is gold" : B. Merwan, Grant Road

The ferocious rapidity of change in Mumbai continues - Boman and Soroush Nazrabadi have shuttered the doors and windows of Grant Road's B. Merwan cafe for the last time, 100 years after their grandfather Boman Merwan opened them up.

In 2007 we interviewed Boman Nazrabadi - here is an excerpt.

My grandfather came over from Iran. From Nazarabad. His name was Boman Merwan Nazarabadi. B. Merwan. As far as I know they could get a better life over here so they came from Iran and started these places. There was nothing like that in Bombay then my grandfather told me – no places to buy quick snacks and everything.


This area, this place around here, has grown like anything because the trains come here, and people come from all over, from suburbs, from Virar, Andheri, Borivali so when they came down they want something fast so first they come over here and get a chai or a mava cake or both!

Here is the perfect location next to Grant Road Station, it was my grandfather’s intuition or whatever you want to call it and you know, in Bombay, people have come from Maharastra, from all over, they used to come from many, many different parts of the country, but there was not so much population at that time that my grandfather first started out.

I started here in 1951 after I left college in Pune. My brother Soroush has been working with me for many years also. We are the third generation. Many of the Irani places have changed now, they have become Chinese or pizza or beer bars. I wouldn't like that! No, I wouldn't like it, the old is gold.

From an interview with Boman Nazrabadi, Mumbai, April 2007.

IMAGES : Top picture of Soroush Nazrabadi,2005, 
copyright Sue Darlow, used with permission 

All other images of B. Merwan cafe taken 2005 by Sue Darlow originally published at http://anothersubcontinent.com/ copyright the estate of Sue Darlow and used with permission.


Remembering B. Merwan in 16 minutes, 25 seconds : Brun

Atul Sabharwal's fine short film Brun documents daily life at Grant Road's B. Merwan cafe as it was in 2005. The film's firepower is about to double with news that Boman and Soroush Nazrabadi will close the landmark Grant Road café next month.

Take a look at Atul's film, and remember. You can almost taste the chai when you watch Brun! An evocative piece Atul wrote for us in 2007 on making the film can be found here.

With thanks to Atul!


Sharada Dwivedi

We have been really saddened by the news this week of the unexpected passing of Sharada Dwivedi. Sharada devoted her working life to researching Bombay and those of us who have a passion for Indian urban history have all benefitted from her fine work.

When we first set-up Irani Chai, Mumbai Sharada was enthusiastic and very supportive; in fact she was so excited she offered to share a piece she had written several years earlier on Yazdani Bakery in Fort with us. 

We extend our condolences to all who were touched by Sharada.

You can read her piece on Yazdani Bakery here.


An upcoming exhibition : January 14 to 20

Mumbai artist Gautam Benegal - whose work on Irani Cafes was featured here back in 2008 - will be exhibiting his work at COOL CHEF CAFE, Worli Village, from January 14 to 20. Here Gautam shares with Irani Chai, Mumbai the mainspring behind his work on Irani cafes.

I am currently working on a series of painting on the Irani cafes of Bombay. The Irani restaurants some of them well over seventy years old represent the quintessential nature of cosmopolitan Bombay and were the first eating houses where people from all classes, castes and persuasions were welcome. The old world interior of an irani restaurant was unique and irreplaceable.

These were the places where a migrant worker could get the cheapest non vegetarian meal in the city. And he would often be rubbing shoulders with poets painters student leaders and journalists for whom the corner Irani was a common meeting point. With time these restaurants are shutting down and currently there are hardly 26 restaurants in all of Bombay.

Their spaces are taken up by multinational banks and garment franchises and very soon there will be none left. I understand that transience is a natural condition of human existence. And though resignedly accept it, I still feel a pang of remorse as familiar faces and architecture melts away around me and that which was considered commonplace and taken for granted by us only a few years ago, now becomes unattainable and priceless as bits and pieces of living history are lost forever.

I try to capture the transient face of Bombay , now forcibly and jingoistically stamped Mumbai, that within the space of a hundred blinks reinvents itself a thousand-fold, as builders, land sharks and estate agents savage it and parcel it out over and over. I need anchors and mnemonics that mark the moments of my life, the places I have been to and the faces I have seen at end of day, for those are the things that make up my living soul.

For when all is said and done, and vision obscured, tastebuds dulled, and flesh demeaned by age, we are but the sum total of our memories. There is no greater sadness than the collective Alzheimer's of a callous populace that does not recognize its own treasures, that cannot cry at the corruption of its ancient rivers or the demise of a simple cup of Irani chai.


Irani Chai, Mumbai is taking a break for a while to work on other projects. But we will be back!



Metamorphosis 2 : Leopold Cafe, Colaba

My name is Farzadh Sheriar Jahani. I was born in Bombay and grew up in Fountain. Flora Fountain area. That’s where, you know, most of the Parsis and Parsi communities were living back then. We lived in a five storey building, on one floor was an Iranian family that was living there, working for the Iranian consulate and there was a Punjabi living on the first floor. The rest of the flats were all occupied by Zoroastrians, Iranis.

My fathers name was Sheriar Framroze Jehani. My mothers name is Gulche Sheriar Jehani and they were both born in Iran. My father came down to India at the age of 15 or 16 with no money in his pocket. He had his brother and sister that he had to look after, and his parents. He was the oldest. So he had to come down to India to work, make a living and send some money back home for the family. They are from Yazd in Iran, actually just close by Yazd, a village called Taft.

My father got work in Irani restaurants, got the experience then like so many other Iranis, he took a share in several Irani joints. He ended up a partner in five restaurants in Bombay. One was called New York Restaurant which was on Hughes Road and he was a partner in Pyrkes Restaurant which was at Flora Fountain, he was a partner in Café Paris which was again at Flora Fountain. He was a partner in Moranaz and Company again very close to, ahhh, in the area of Fountain, and here at Leopold’s, that’s where my father was also. In fact, he was most of the time over here in Leopold’s and all the others were run by my father’s brother, his sister’s husband and other family.

Mr Rustom was a partner with my father here at Leopold’s and the building belonged to him That’s why the building is called Rustom Manzil. Also Aspandiar Ferhandaz Irani was a partner, Sheriar Framroze Jehani was a partner and Framroze Irani was also a partner – he was Aspandiar’s brother. These were the four partners that were in Leopold’s. During that time it was only my father who was running the show. All the other partners were you know doing something else. Rustom was coming and going. Aspi had a travel agent called Asiatic Travel Service which was near VT station, right opposite New Empire Cinema. The other gentleman was Framroze, he was living in Iran. So it was left to my father to run it daily. And it was in 1980, in the 80s, early 80s that I was in the 8th grade and I told my father I had an interest in learning the business.

It was more of an old type Irani café and store back then, they were selling confectionary items like…all kinds of things, they were selling biscuits and cakes and they were selling toothpaste, soaps, ah, you know medicines that didn’t require licences, such as Aspirin. They were selling cigarettes, cigars, and oh, um, khari biscuits and wafers and samosas and pattice and there were more sales of meals like English chicken roast and cutlet with soup, sandwiches, puddings and custards. There were a few Parsi dishes such as dhansak on the menu but not many. Today we have 140-odd items on our menu card. The changes came in the late 80s like in ’86, ’87 we introduced Chinese food into our restaurant, because we realised that people are now going for Chinese food and so we did too.

I remember my father telling me the 60s was the time of the hippies into the 70s, then the 80s was the time of the Arabs – the phases of Leopold I am talking about- then came the backpackers and now we have the expats. And a lot of Indians too as Indians have a lot more money these days than they used to.

When I was in my teens I used to meet people that were coming from Afghanistan, fleeing Afghanistan because the Russians had invaded. And we had a lot of, as I said, tourists, foreigners that were hanging around Colaba. So I have seen all kinds of crowd here. During the Iran-Iraq war we had people that had fled from Iran, young people that didn’t want to go to the war. I have seen people that were helping Iranians get out of the country illegally, but none of these transactions would take place in the premises for the respect of the owners, for the respect of the place and everybody had a good relationship.

And we had the Zoroastrian Parsis who would come here every Sunday morning, those were the cyclists. They used to have tournaments, races from Bombay to Pune and back, those kinds of things. There were a lot of young Parsis who would come basically on a Sunday – on a holiday. But not the rest of the week.

There used to be times when I would go with my Dad to Crawford market; because he would get up at 530 in the morning and by 6 o’clock he used to be in the market. At that time we had to go over there, we had to buy things like mutton, chicken, vegetables everything had to be hand picked and then we had a guy who used to be a cart-puller – he’d load onto the cart and deliver it to the restaurant over here.

My father used to have his Italian Fiat 1959 model which he used to get in and come back to Leopold’s in. Sometimes if his car was spoilt I might come with him and we would get a bus ride, early in the morning, on the BEST as we call them and I’d come with him, spend the day. Since my house was close – just 1, 2 kilometres from Leopold’s I could walk back home but no I would wait for my father , until he had finished, and then leave with him.

The world is different to what it was back then. People themselves have changed, those that wanted to move on in life have moved on in life. What we did was we moved with the times. Today my older brother Farhang and I manage Leopold’s. We have changed with the times and that’s why we have survived. I have seen so many an Irani joint either shut down, or sell out because they didn’t move with the times, they didn’t change.

I would say I am thankful to my Dad for having confidence in me and my brother, to let us make some changes while he was alive, while I was growing up still. He realised it was for the betterment of the business. You see people in those days – the elderly generation- were not having so much trust in their children, to let them bring in the changes. Have you heard about the crab in the basket? Sometimes I feel our community can be like that. If one is climbing up to get out of it, the other one is pulling that one down. Why? Success in a community should be accepted open heartedly. In fact, ask that person to guide you. Learn from that person. Educate yourself. Open your, your vision. Go and learn, don’t pull that person down.

I am really grateful to Gregory David Roberts for putting down what he had to in his book Shantaram. He himself is a great person. He has put us on the map of the world, it’s like ‘OK this is where Leopold’s is’. I have met so many foreign tourists, rich people who have read this book that would stay at Taj, came over here, and they say ‘we never thought of coming down to Bombay or to India or to Leopold, but after reading this book it pulled us to your place. And here we are eating, enjoying the food that’s been cooked here’.

The Iranis who started these places in Bombay, look, they have taken pain, they have sacrificed. Today I am sitting here, I have enjoyed, I have travelled, I have done all kinds of things my father didn’t do. My father and mother sacrificed so that I got this and I am enjoying this today because of their sacrifices. Today, I am not sacrificing in the same way to give life to my children, but I still protect them so that they get the best. Hard work and sacrifice is what they gave.

On 26/11/2008 two guys were standing by our door between 940 and 945pm talking on their cell phones. After that communication they were standing and talking to each other, maybe doing their prayers or what not and then one person, from his haversack, removes a hand grenade and hurls it into the restaurant. Soon after there was gun fire from an AK47. We lost several loyal staff and guests and others were injured. There was blood all over the place. It knocked all of us over.

It does not make any sense. Why kill innocent people? What have the people that you have killed done to anybody? They are sitting as human beings as you were once – they are no more human beings – eating their food with their family and friends. You have your differences with whoever, but why innocent people? I don’t understand. They basically came to kill foreigners. But we don’t let them win. We opened up after a few days and we stay open, we won’t let the fear and hate take over, we will work hard so that we then sleep. And time helps. I think my father would be proud of all of us.

From an interview with Farzadh Sheriar Jahani, Mumbai, March 2009

IMAGES, top to bottom:

-Farzadh S. Jahani, Mumbai 2009

-Rand McNally map of Asia, 1892

-Advertisement for Leopold & Co., in Hormusji Dhunjishaw Darukhanawala,

Parsi Lustre on Indian Soil, Claridge, Bombay, 1939

-Man smoking at Leopold's 2004, photographer Apoorva Guptay, copyright

-Wall mural, Leopold's Cafe, artist unknown

-Frahang Jahani, Leopold's Cafe 2009, photographer Jason Motlagh, copyright

-Leopold's Colaba Causeway 1980s, photographer Marellaluca, copyright

-Leopold's Colaba Causeway 2009

-Wall mural remembering 26/11 Mumbai bombings, Mumbai 2009