Within days of the two-decade-old Cafe Turtle announcing the closure of its Khan Market outlet, another landmark restaurant — Smoke House Deli — has shut shop. Confirming this, owner and Mumbai-based restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani told The Indian Express, “We may not be resuming operations in the Khan Market outlet, while others may reopen gradually.”
Amlani, CEO and MD of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, which also owns other brands like Social, Mocha and Ishaara, said with Unlock 1.0 coming in the middle of the pandemic, “restaurateurs are in a Catch-22 situation”. “While gradual reopening is the only way to win back customers, resuming operations at this moment is not financially viable,” he said, adding that high rentals at Khan Market — the most expensive commercial real estate property in India — too makes it impossible for them to continue with operations.
Many also said landlords not willing to negotiate on rent adds to their financial woes. “The industry has taken such a hit that there is going to be bloodbath,” said Amlani.
Other restaurants in the market like pan-Asian restaurant Sidewok, which opened in 2006, have also shut shop, said owner Rajneesh Malik.
At Connaught Place, which has around 280 big and small eateries and bars, things aren’t better off either. Insiders say many restaurants may be forced to shut shop if mutually agreeable deals can’t be worked out with landlords and help doesn’t come from the Delhi government.
Atul Bhargava, President of the New Delhi Traders Association (NDTA), the traders’ collective in Connaught Place, said, “Several old restaurants like Zen, United Coffee House or The Embassy, which either own the places or are paying old rents, may survive this lockdown. But most of the outlets that have come up in the last five years may find the going really tough.”
Typically, the newer outlets — most of them bars and pubs — have high rentals, high operating cost, huge staff and survive largely on liquor sales, which isn’t allowed as of now.
Bhargava added that besides Kwality, which has started home delivery of food, none of the restaurants have resumed operations as they have to first arrange for the mandatory prerequisites of social distancing, digital menus etc, and only then they get necessary clearances. He said most outlets in CP are currently in a grey zone since they weren’t given adequate time by the government to prepare for reopening.
Meanwhile, they are using this time to talk to their landlords about rent and also talking to the Delhi government about lowering the excise fee since they haven’t been allowed to serve liquor since March.
“The Delhi government has given them no relief — be it in terms of rentals, excise or loans. If they are not able to work out a self-sustaining model in the coming weeks, many more will be shutting down,” said Bhargava.
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