What happens when a good restaurant closes?

It is not just an end of a brand or someone’s dream, it is a slice of our culture that goes along.

By Madhulika Dash; Cover picture courtesy: Lavaash By Saby

Ask any chef/restauranteur or a team what is the most difficult (almost heart tearing) decision that they had to make in their life, many would not choose the curtain fall, but the time when they called quits. It is never an easy decision – because the reasons to do so are never that simple. And this is for the good ones as well, who by the book have been doing everything right. No wonder that in the F&B business world the phrase rules, “want to check your risk appetite, become a restauranteur.”

They often portrayed glamorous profile is in fact one that warrants you to walk over a nail bed, every single day with things falling over your head as issues, troubles and humps that a seasoned chefpreneur or owner would usually explain smilingly as a “a slight glitch”. But then that’s how the some of the breed of Indian foodpreneurs (a good number of them great chefs as well) are built.

They ace the art of preserving even in the face of acute adversity – while working hard to meet our demands and give us that exceptional experience that most of us have begun to expect as ‘given’.

That was till 2020 – when amidst uncertainty and lockdowns, we diners suddenly became aware of what it takes to build a restaurant, run it to our expectation (and growing demands) – and take the painful decision of shutting it down, permanently – as some of India’s finest opened up about the issue plaguing the industry that isn’t just the finest showcase of our edible history and evolving culture but also one of the largest employment generator in the country. Come to think of it, to be a part of the restaurant business, degree isn’t a must – not in most of the cases. You need to only know how to read the ingredients, basic cooking and the willingness to work hard and learn faster – and truly sky is the limit. A testimony of how talent rise up in the industry can be found in the history of some of our iconic dishes that were often created by someone who was trying to cook something palate-happy with available ingredients at the dead of the night for his famished team and owner.

Yes, the very famous Butter Chicken. Become greedy for skills and knowledge and you could well be a celebrated name in the business of food. After all, it is an industry that is runs on good, tasteful food than sheer publicity – and has the same bearish-bullish mood feel akin to the Stock Exchange.

But restaurants aren’t just about mass employment and food, they have been at the foundation of culture evolutions – and the platform that helped us rebuilt a new society/ though, one brick and dish at a time. Let’s take the Udupi restaurants. While they became the finest brand ambassador that popularized southern India’s popular breakfast along with food from the region; they also introduced the culture of eating out, alone and with family. The Irani joints that fed a rising middle class and the mill workers; and places like Noor Mohammadi that even made food passes for the ground workers to sustain in the Urban city. They were also the epicenters where the young India shaped their thoughts and actions – and this included the little food shops that made Chandni Chowk – a hangout for revolutionaries in Colonial India – and the Grant Road, not just a trade route but a melting pot of cuisines, and innovation. In fact, a scroll through the old pages of history will tell how restaurants were at the core foundation of not only some of the finest modern cities but of empires too.

Fascinatingly, when it comes to role play, little has changed for the modern restaurant compared to the brethren back in time. Restaurants are still the finest showcase of not just our food but our culture and values too. They are distinct in their make and the way each of them curates an experience for their diners. They still work as that essential catalyst for our social evolution – irrespective of whether they are a few years old or a heritage.

And that is the sum total of what we as a society lose when a restaurant, even a relatively young one, decides to call it a day. Of course, it is an emotional vacuum for us diner too have to bid farewell to an vital slice of your life too.