It’s 4.30 pm on a weekday, and a steady stream of customers — young professionals, college students, homemakers and children — are jostling for space in the hotcase-lined MM Mithaiwala store outside the Malad (West) railway station.
Some seem to know exactly what they want and head straight for a specific treat; others linger, their eyes scanning the shelves of sweets and savoury snacks — jalebis, kaju katli, gulab jamuns, boondi, samosas, dhoklas and bhajjias.
For 61 years, this landmark sweetmeat shop has churned out mithai made in pure ghee and assorted treats—an array of offerings that has grown from an initial menu of 12 items to the current 30.
In its 3,000-sq-ft kitchen, rows of milk boilers, deep freezers and mawa-making machines process a total of 100 litres of milk, 20 kg of ghee and 10 kg of sugar daily, with a team of 12 mithai-makers adding in a total of 10 kg of wheat flour and 4 kg of dry fruits to make their primary offerings of various types of mithai.
In his cabin at the back of the store, co-owner Manmohan C Gupta is back after lunch and a half-hour nap.
The 65-year-old is part of what is now a 48-member family running the business. They live together in a two-storey family bungalow in Borivli.
Gupta was 17 when his father, a catering contractor for the railways, moved to Mumbai from Marwar, Rajasthan, with his wife and eight children, to join his extended family’s business.
MM was then the Manmohan Lodge and Restaurant. A few years later, sadly, both parents were dead — his father of a heart attack and his mother in childbirth — and Gupta dropped out of Class 11 to join the business.
“I was very young, but a lot was riding on my shoulders,” says Gupta, seated behind a wooden desk covered with labeled files containing details of corporate and large orders for Diwali.
“Accompanying my father to work, I had learnt the importance of customer relations and stringent quality control and I was determined to make our store a success,” says Gupta, who later completed a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce through correspondence. “We started out small. God has been good to us.”
Offering free home delivery, festival discounts and student discounts has brought in plenty of goodwill and business, says Gupta. But as inflation pushed prices upward, the effort continues.
Even today, Gupta starts his day at 4 am, with a quick shower followed by a 20-minute prayer session. He then reads the newspapers, sometimes helps his wife, Snehalata, in the kitchen.
After a light breakfast of soaked gram, he pens some poems in Hindi in his diary, “with a special fountain pen”.
Then it’s time for the 45-minute drive to his store, where he clocks in at 11 am. First, he takes stock of the day’s orders, then heads to the kitchen to supervise and lend a hand. Today, he fried a batch of jalebis. He usually makes at least one batch of a sweet or savoury item daily, “to keep my staff motivated, inspired and on their toes”.
From 2 to 3.30 pm is usually lunch and siesta time. “No one is allowed to disturb me during my afternoon siesta,” says Gupta, laughing.
After his break, Gupta oversees the store from his cabin till 5.30 pm, after which he sits at the counter, catching up with the regulars who drop by on their way home from work.
At 7 pm, Gupta heads back home for an early dinner of roti-sabzi (“with ghee”) followed by some TV, before retiring to bed at 10.30 pm.
His day off is Tuesday, and he takes a vacation every three months. The father of three grown children, all married, his last trip was to the US with his wife. “We enjoy just sitting together and reflecting on our lives,” he says.
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)