It’s afternoon on a humid Tuesday in Dongri and the downstairs section of Roshan Bakery and Restaurant is filled with a diverse set of customers. A gentleman in a starched white shirt is sitting by himself and devouring a small cream pastry. A young woman broods over a cup of black Irani tea, fragrant with mint. A cop from the police station next door is playing a game on his phone while conversing in a low voice with his companion. I’m seated at a corner table with Farookh Meherbani and his son Shapur, the owners of this newly-opened eatery and I ask them what, if any, philosophy guides their approach to business. Meherbani senior looks around the restaurant and replies, “Whatever we serve, we want it to be of the best possible quality, and we want to be open to every section of society, whether it’s someone who spends Rs 600 on a full lunch or someone who is looking for a quiet place to sit and can only afford to spend Rs 15 on a cup of tea.”
The restaurant in Dongri is only a few months old, but the Meherbanis have been in the business of serving delicious, well-priced food for decades, beginning with Farookh’s father Khodayar, who came to Mumbai from Iran in 1957, and became a partner in one of the many bakeries that dotted the Mazgaon-Byculla stretch. Some of these bakeries are still standing, and of these, the 100-year-old Roshan Bakery is arguably the best known, proudly claiming a stretch of the street outside the Mazgaon Telephone Exchange. “The bakery was owned by members of our Irani community, but, over time, we bought out all the partners,” says Farookh, 59, who took over the business 25 years ago. His son, Shapur, joined the family business three years ago.
A strong desire to keep their legacy alive had driven Farookh to join the family business at a critical juncture. “Demand had fallen and we didn’t have a lot of products besides bread and some cakes and biscuits,” he says. Roshan Bakery already had a reputation for its bread and pav — still made in wood-fired ovens — and, Farookh decided to add new items to the menu, including freshly-made chapatis four years ago. When Shapur said he wanted to add tandoor-made rotis to the menu, his father cleared a small space between the retail counter and the bakery from where the younger Meherbani could operate. Customers loved the new additions. “They were queueing outside the shop just to buy the rotis!” says Shapur. Soon, customers were asking for accompaniments to the rotis. The Meherbanis then began serving mutton nihari, butter chicken, mutton kheema and paya masala. “Customers said that we should have seating arrangement too, and we thought, why not?” says Shapur. That’s how the restaurant came up in Dongri, only five minutes away from the bakery.
With a menu featuring a small but solid section of Parsi specialities, alongside tandoor items and Chinese dishes, the restaurant opened on the first day of Eid. The Meherbanis say that it was an instant success. Shapur says, “All sorts of people come here, from policemen to ladies who want a space in which to have their menij (kitty parties). We wanted to keep alive the tradition of Irani cafes, where people from all sections of society find space. Many of these cafes have shut down, but I think we’ve shown that there is still space for them.”