In 1936, the now-sprawling Nathu’s Sweets in Delhi’s Bengali Market was a humble tea stall. It had been set up by the late Nathu Ram Ramesh Kumar, who migrated from Haryana in search of work. Located only a few feet from the New Delhi Railway Station, it soon became a place for weary travellers to stop by for a cup of tea and some biscuits. Several decades on, the shop named after Nathu Ram became a much-loved chain of shops in Delhi — with the most recent outlet being opened in 2016 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport terminal.
The business is now carried forward by his family. The flagship outlet in Bengali Market, for example, is now run by Nathu Ram’s grandson Arun Gupta, and his son, Kashish. Arun, 61, and eight other brothers together manage 23 Nathu outlets across Delhi. Each has its own production unit and management, often with different logos. It is well after lunch hours in the Bengali Market shop, but customers of all ages keep streaming in. “I started working here with my father four years ago,” says fourth-generation owner Kashish, 21, who has done a course on hotel management and is now pursuing a BBA degree. “I had whims like any other child, but I realised how important this is,” he says. There was no pressure from the family to join the business, he says.
It’s been a long journey, from delivering food on bicycles, to being allowed into Sonia Gandhi’s residence for a delivery. Their clientele has now diversified to hotels and corporate houses. The Bengali Market outlet has also doubled up as a set for Bollywood. “Love Aaj Kal (2009) was shot here, and everyone came: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rishi Kapoor and the entire crew,” says Kashish. The young were excited, not so much Arun, who had hosted Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna at the shop back in the day.
In the last decade, the shop has had a facelift. The walls are covered in mirrors, refrigerators have been added. The shop sells around 150 sweets, made using homegrown recipes, a variety of confectionary items, cakes, cookies, puffs, and laddoos, made using kaju-badam, besan and more. The bestsellers are the kesar laddoo and shami kebabs. “For Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th hundred, we spent an entire day making a 200-kg laddoo,” says Kashish. It was later distributed in celebration, as Tendulkar reached the milestone.
“We keep trying out things with kaju paste as it is easiest to mould,” Kashish says, pointing towards the artistic assortment of strawberries, watermelons, and apples, which have been sculpted out of mithai. The raw material is sourced from Khari Baoli and Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. “We don’t use artificial colouring. We try to stay true to quality,” says Kashish, who swears by the shop’s chana bhatura and gol gappas.
Kashish, who has often worked at the shop with his father, says he is always looking for new ways to connect to younger patrons. “I recently added momos, spring rolls, and loaded-cheesy fries to the menu,” he says. Introducing new items in a traditional sweet shop can be tricky, but, he says, his father has been encouraging, and they now seek to open branches in the US and Canada.