It’s past three in the afternoon, and the place is relatively empty. A couple walks in asking if there is anything left. But the owner, 62-year-old Mohammed Hassan, announces that the shutters of his kitchen are down. They will only open at 7 pm now, for dinner. Tucked in a corner of Bengaluru’s Museum Road, this is The Only Place — one of the first American diners to serve steaks and burgers in the city.
In 1965, Haroon Sulaiman Sait left behind his family business of textiles to open Regent Guest House on Brigade Road, on a property that he inherited. “My uncle started making breakfast for the guests, many of whom were expatriates. There wasn’t much of continental food in the city back then,” says Hassan, who runs the diner with the help of his daughter Rufqa, 25. They are Cutchi Memons who migrated from Gujarat’s Kutch over a century ago.
Regent Guest House attracted a lot of foreigners — Peace Corp volunteers from the US, college students, Iranians and Palestinians. Sait, eventually, got introduced to steaks and burgers by the guests. “He also started making Iranian dishes like Bamia curry and Ghormeh sabzi, and made pastas and pizza in the early 1970s,” Hassan says. Danish workers and the Japanese also started frequenting the place. “One Japanese gentleman liked the food so much that he made a sketch of lips smacking and called us ‘the only place’. That’s how the name and logo came about,” says Hassan, who joined Sait in 2003. It is also when the eatery shifted to its present location.
With beef dishes as the USP, they serve a variety of salads, soups, steaks, burgers, sandwiches and pastas. Some of the popular dishes include the All-American beef burger, chateaubriand steak and Apple pie. The burger that sold for Rs 2 when they started is sold for Rs 200 now.
Since Americans have always frequented the eatery, and it has enjoyed a close relationship with the US embassy in the city as well, the American Thanksgiving is an annual celebration here. So is the fourth of July. “But after 9/11, it was stopped. We used to gather at the Bangalore Palace for a picnic… people bought burgers from us for the occasion. But it became a concern for the US consulate, so it was discontinued,” he says. When the cast and crew of the David Lean film, A Passage to India (1984), landed in Bengaluru to shoot, the diner was their go-to place. It has also served corporate heads like Azim Premji, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and fashion designer Prasad Bidapa.
Hassan is unfazed by his competition. “They don’t have our steak or apple pie to offer. We don’t have to serve liquor to sell our food, while others can’t run without liquor,” he says. But Hassan is, however, concerned about the future. “With elections around the corner next year, we don’t know what will happen. If the BJP comes to power again, beef can get banned in Karnataka as well. Then our business will go for a toss,” he says.