Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Legends of the Fall: The Nirulas and Wengers Story

No chronicler of Indian F&B can neglect the two legends and part of every Delhi wallahs life, One single outlet bakery and one time restaurant, Wengers. The other a restaurant in Delhi’s Connaught Place, now a 65 outlet restaurant chain, Nirulas.

I have earlier attempted to crack the mystery and aura around Moti Mahal, Kwality and Gaylord. Now I attempt to the same with these titans since they are older in India than all those mentioned. Wengers the oldest big dady was born in 1926 (83 years old) and Nirulas was born in 1934 (75 years old). These geriatrics or senior citizens have been around for a really long time.
The Nirulas Story :
What made these men from Lahore LC Nirula and M Nirula settle for a restaurant, after trying their hands in running a photo shop, optician shop and a pharmacy before 1934. In 1934 they opened theirb first, called Hotel India with 12 rooms, a restaurant and a bar license. Then conversion to the Nirula name and stuck to that. . It also show cased the first Chinese restaurant with the Chinese room ,in the 1950’s and of course an espresso coffee bar (though espresso then was actually a cappuccino). The 1960s witnessed the opening of two specialty restaurants Austro- Hungarian cuisine restaurant called La Boehme a toast of the glitterati in New Delhi and an Indian restaurant called Gufa. It hosted the Lala Charat Ram wedding, Raj Kapoor , judged a beauty show and it introduced Delhi to cabaret shows .

In the 50’s my dapper uncle Ranjit Kumar on his father’s (my grandfather’s) borrowed motorcycle, a Norton or an Indian Chief parked it at Nirula’s and met at what they called Adda (meeting place, hangout joint) and we call Nirula’s this was at the famous L Block which also housed the Nirulas Hotel.He moved To UK in 1956 and often drinking Irish whisky with him he reminisces of the good times at Nirulas.
The other turning point was the moving into the fast food business in the 70s when the sons Lalit and Deepak Nirula fortified with their Cornell University education started rolling out the , The Pastry Shop, Snack Bar, Hot Shoppe and the the Ice Cream Parlour (called Nirulas 21, it had 21 flavors, a first time in India) The Pegasus bar and Potpourri, a sit down restaurant with a salad bar were opened around this time.

The world had changed ,Delhi was introduced to burgers , the big boy, the chilli burger and the mama of all the Mahaburger(as they were meant to be, not fried buns with a tomato, onion and a patty, although as a child I did not mind that as well) pizzas with sausages, the hot chocolate fudge ( which now has a facebook community around this sundae), hamburger steak, footlongs, banana split (yumm, a split banana with three scoops of ice cream, strawberry, pineapple and chocolate with their own toppings) and introduced us to really nice Hot Dogs. We were all living the Archies and Riverdale dream, we chose our own characters and thought we were at Pop Tate’s I was definitely Jughead and dreaming to be Archie once in awhile. The Nirula’s family got it right, in the 70s and 80s money was tight and aspirations were high. They got everything right. The Mustard had the right twang and the chillies in vinegar were divine (though the have stopped serving the chillies, the taste in my memory banks lingers on).

Opened family style restaurants with self service at Chanakya Cinema, the uber cool place to hangout, it opened at 10 am and shut at 11 pm. There was a rush to go in at opening hour (with all the bunking girls from Jesus and Mary College and their beaus waiting for them) and trying to request the gatekeeper for a quick snack pick up at 11pm. People had to be asked to leave finally at 11pm. The revolving door with gust of wind as an air curtain and the food was what dreams were made of. They also opened in Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar all in the 80s. They even had one on Darbar Road at Kathmandu
Today after the takeover by Narvis Capital of Malaysia and Samir Kuckreja (an old hand at Nirulas) it has over 65 outlets with more formats, as those at petrol pumps, at airports, a sort of express version, just ice cream parlours and pastry shops in addition to the restaurants and family style restaurants.

Everybody said Nirulas has it right, three generations can dine on a table and enjoy the experience, the range was immense , Thalis, Fish and chips, Butter chicken, Dal Makni, Chilly Burgers, Sausage Capsicum Onion Mushroom pizzas, Shakes, Lime Ice, Pineapple Sundaes, Hot Chocolate Fudge, Pasteries, Shammi Kabab, it was more than a 110 long list all the stuff was good even some outlets had dosas. So what happened to the magic.

It did evaporate a little with new girls in town, Mc Donalds, Pizza Hut, KFC and many many more. The Nirulas kept a brave fight with competing and sometimes saying we mean everything for everyone in the family. The new management is perhaps once again showind greater vigour.
My own experiences start with an afternoon at the swimming pool and in the summer of 1980, landed at Nirulas at CP, It was at Hot Shoppe I had, the hamburger steak at under five rupees. My friends Ravi and Ashutosh would say, if Sam (that’s me) is broke, he will have a chilly burger (at Rs 7/) otherwise a pizza and a banana split (both at Rs 13.50 each).

I had most of my dates there, initially lovelorn, I was gawky and choking on my food and gave all the attention to the foxy lady by gazing into her eyes, while she gave her attention to everyone and everything, Aas I gained confidence, I would focus more on the food than her. I knew I was developing a new relationship that with food and less with her. Cut to the present my dear wife Praveen goes with me as I am hanging on to the past (though she does enjoy some of the stuff when we order at home) and our little one Detective An, can’t let go of the mug of Hot chocolate fudge, she does not care much for anything else.
More power to Nirulas and we don’t care if a Malaysian owns it or a Chinaman as long as they stay as close as possible to their genetic code.
I am going to ask you to turnover to the next post for the Wengers story as it will make this post too long and unreadable.

Whats your favorite Nirulas Story ? What’s your favorite at the Nirulas.
So Long !


protima said...

i love the burgers at nirulas :)

protima said...

fav from Nirulas story :
"I was definitely Jughead and dreaming to be Archie once in awhile."
Samil Bhaiya, you have been Archie always..any day.. definitely Archie !!

~ Deeps ~ said...

well the hcf is not same any more, less nuts, less choclate and it tastes like any other icecream...........
still remember the days, when we used to wait for annual result to get a crack at free sundae every yr :)

Samil said...


My daughter is the third generation fan of HCF. I am sure there are families with a fourth generation fan as well.Lets enjoy it till it lasts or we get something better.

I agree the exam results did have a strong association with Nirulas, especially, with show your marksheet with 75% and above and get a sundae. I was never in that league. I am told the bar has gotten higher.

warm regards,

Samil Malhotra

~ Deeps ~ said...

yeah....we still walk down to nearest Nirulas for HCF, whenever we feel like having a decent sundae.......

btw i do remember their pizzas (Chanakya outlet) used to be quite good, spl with the mustard sauce...which was not offered at most of the places then....some memories....

check out cocoberry at def col market for deserts...though it might miss your 100 Rs bracket, its gradually replacing the choice of my fav desert after dinner....

They offer some amazing yoghurt based sundaes with exotic fruits....

cheers :)

Samil said...

Dear Deepak,

I could not agree more with you on the mustard sauce which had the right sizzle almost like todays wasabi.

I will defenitely check out cocoberry. Thanks for the involved comment.
Warm regards,
ps have you checked the latest post in the history of wengers, whats your favorite wengers story

Rohit Agarwal said...

Long long ago at the L Block Nirula's I witnessed these two small kids (I wasn't much bigger myself) horsing around with their ice cream cones in their hands. They were doing a mock sword fight with their cones, when the ice cream scoop of one of them fell off. He glanced around quickly, picked it up and placed it back into his cone and carried on. While all this happened within a split second, I caught the expressions on the child's face, and they were priceless - changing from glee to dismay to apprehension to relief.
Whenever I cross that particular area of CP, I am always reminded of those expressions.

Anita Duggal said...

This is very nice post and people getting more information about restaurant so this post will definitely help them to find best restaurant.I will share this post with my friends.
Noida Restaurants

Samil said...

Thanks Anita You are kind

Warm regards,

Samil Malhotra