The legacy continues

Coffee House

Counted among the top heritage structures in the city, there are many buildings that are holding the legacy from the time of the British Raj. One among those is the United Coffee House that is standing tall since 1942.

The place is now under the charge of its third generation owner Akash Kalra. Metrolife got candid with the 40-year-old hotelier who took us back to the birth of United Coffee House, tracing its journey through the years.

“My family started this venture in 1942, as a coffee place. We were already into business of hospitality in Chandni Chowk, running a bar and a wine shop. At that time (1939), the hub of Delhi was Chandni Chowk, and Connaught Place was a newer market which mainly dealt with lifestyle products. There were only a few cafeterias which the British intellectuals’ wives used to run. So understanding the opportunity and the need of a legitimate place for people to sit and relax, our founder set up this Coffee House,” shares Kalra.

Recounting some interesting facts about Delhi at that time, Kalra adds, “CP had much better crowd at that time as compared to Chandni Chowk. It witnessed the maximum footfall of people like intellectual, journalists, poets, philanthropists. 9 pm was the deadline for Delhi’s nightlife to get over. But places like Chandni Chowk buzzed with
energy till late.”

Kalra says, “During the early period of United Coffee House, the concentration was only on coffee, tea and savouries. ‘Coffee house culture’ was not very familiar to Delhi at that time. Our founder’s ideology was to attract people who can come, sit back, relax, talk, and have coffee to get engaged.”
He adds, “We have evolved to become a multi-faceted place but have kept the same environment which was there 70 years back and never distracted from our founder’s ideology. A lot of old customers come and lot of new people keep adding on, therefore we afford to be in sync with the times, without losing our heritage. We have maintained the same Victorian decor and ambience of the place since its inception. We added a lot of British savouries and Indian Colonial food which was popular at that time to the menu. Slowly and steadily, Indian colonial food, Kayashta food, North east Frontier food, that was famous at that time was also incorporated in the menu. In 1960s, we added a lot of Victorian cuisine. It was more about British continental food which included little French, more of British and lesser Americanised cuisine.”

Talking about his start, he says, “When I joined the business, it was the time when quick service restaurants or QSRs and new restaurant concepts were in. I got into deep cuisine which were the flavour of originalism, authenticity and incorporated lot of regional elements into the menu. My menu has North East Frontier flavours, Rajasthani, and all kinds of different cuisines incorporating elements of regional India and European cuisines from Spanish to Italian.”

A very informal and casual atmosphere greets you, each time you get inside the place. You get to see people who are sitting there with different purposes. And unlike any other eatery or coffee house, no waiter pushes you to place a worthy order.

To this Kalra comments, “People don’t come to this place with a preset mind. We believe that the customer should never feel like he has to open the menu and order something worthy. We let the time and mood of the customer suggest whether he want to order something or not. That is why people come to us again and again and with different reasons.”

Kalra who did his graduation from Delhi University believes that to run a hospitality business professional degree do counts but experience is the biggest tool.  At the tender age of 18, he had to take charge of the place due to which he was unable to pursue any professional course.

Continuing the family set up, Kalra says, “My whole gang of people who I work with and live along are poised towards hospitality and getting into more modules of hospitality. My son is pursuing Hotel Management course and is very keen to take the charge of this business one day.”

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