October 12, 2020 6:20:40 pm
A large space, with outdoor seating, on a busy street corner which is a part of the Carter Road-Pali Hill morning (and evening) walk circuit. Vaibhav Singh couldn’t have asked for a better location for the first Perch Wine and Coffee Bar outside Delhi. In the Capital, the two branches of Perch – in Khan Market and Vasant Vihar – have a much smaller, almost discreet presence, so it’s surprising that the big space – with an al-fresco area, to boot – that Singh found is in Mumbai, a city where elbow space is often a luxury. “We were so lucky to find that space and that’s why we were all the more excited to open in Mumbai,” says Singh, who owns Perch.
The 120-seater Perch in Bandra had a “soft opening” on February 23, only to shut down within a month when the pandemic forced a lockdown all over the country. It opens for dine-in again today, after a little over six months. “Commercially, we knew we were going to bleed, since our exposure in Mumbai is a lot bigger,” says Singh, “Also, our landlords in Delhi have been more generous (during this period). But we took this time to build our relationships in the neighbourhood. After all, we do call ourselves ‘a neighbourhood place’, so when takeaway and deliveries began to be allowed, we did that. We now have a set of regulars who visit us almost every evening to pick up their coffee.”
Perch in Delhi has been open for dine-in since the state government began lifting restrictions on eating out on June 8. Understandably, the experience has been markedly different since the reopening. For one thing, the menus are much smaller, but, Singh explains, this is part of the anti-COVID precautions they’ve consciously taken. “We removed a lot of the cold dishes which are not cooked. (One) reason for doing this was to make space in the kitchen as well, so staff members have sufficient distance between them. Being located in busy market areas, we have small kitchens, so we reduced the number of staff on each shift and because of that, we needed to have a more concise menu,” he says. The staff is 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels (as some employees have still not returned) and has been divided into two teams that work on alternate days.
“What I hear from all the customers right now is that they are just done sitting at home,” says Singh, “When we re-opened, there was a lot of excitement. Many of our regulars came back, and we also saw a lot of new faces. You could see couples, who had probably not met in a long time, and friends, who come in pairs, catching up. Because that’s what going out is about: not so much food, but to meet people.”
Much of Perch’s charm comes from being a quiet oasis in a busy neighbourhood, so location matters. The pandemic and lockdown have affected this aspect significantly: in Khan Market, for example, where popular places like Full Circle Bookshop and Cafe Turtle, Sidewok and Smoke House Delhi, have exited, things are far quieter than normal. Singh, however, remains hopeful, “Even earlier, with the high rentals in Khan Market, the number of places shutting down was quite high. Landlords are still not clear how much concession they should give and there’s a lot of confusion over the fate of some places. But you’ll be surprised to know that some new outlets are already coming up. The (construction) work in many has already begun. A lot of people, many of whom have not been in this business before, have actually found this to be a good opportunity and are trying their luck. So that should be interesting to watch,” he says.
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