Horror, the Parsi vibe and 1950s America: The culture of Big Chill, Sodabottle Openerwala and American Diner
Whenever we go to a restaurant, it’s not only the food which draws us there, but the entire atmosphere.Updated: Jun 03, 2020 15:22 IST
According to the Oxford Dictionary, culture is defined as the customs and beliefs, art, way of life, and social organization of a particular country or group.
Whenever we go to a restaurant, it’s not only the food which draws us there, but the entire atmosphere. There are places which you go to when you’re feeling social, while you would prefer other options when all you want to do is enjoy a quiet meal. But over the last decade, the number of theme based restaurants has increased, giving us a wide variety to choose from, which may or may not have anything to do with their food.
So where do you go when you want to have a good meal, be surrounded with horror movie posters, a Parsi vibe or be transported to 1950s America? Read on to find out.
If you are a horror movie fan, you cannot miss the movie posters up on the walls of any of the Big Chill outlets in Delhi. The refreshing part, however, is that they aren’t posters of recent English movies, but the classics and also now unheard of horror movies from the 30s, 40s and 50s Hollywood. And when you’ve ordered your favourite Banoffee pie with some lasagna, the mood is set once Michael Jackson’s Thriller starts playing on their music system.
Big Chill, which currently has seven outlets (plus their bakery), was started by Aseem Grover and Fawzia Ahmed (his wife) in 2000 with an outlet in East of Kailash. Both quit their jobs when starting their first restaurant and did not know anything about handling a business. Aseem was in the army while Fawzia worked for a British NGO. All the recipes were envisioned by Fawzia, who wasn’t even a trained chef, but enjoyed it as a hobby. The beginning was very basic, with them even using the microwave from their house.
But what about the horror movie posters?
“Fawzia and her cousin both would collect film posters and movies from the time they were in school, though he was more of a horror fiend. When we started off, we even had a large TV and occasionally with friends we would watch movies in the afternoon in our restaurant, which of course was a different era. The posters had been lying around for a long time anyways, so we just had to put them up,” says Aseem.
But pinpointing a singular dish which is a favourite with customers is difficult for Aseem.
“Everyone has their own preferences and choices. When we started off, our menu was a single A4 sheet with 32 dishes on them. We kept adding items throughout the years, but around five years ago we decided to take a few dishes off. However, over time different customers would enquire why their favourite item had been taken off, so we decided to put everything back. Currently we have about 450 dishes on our menu,” adds Aseem.
No asking for discount- No talking to cashier- No flatulence- No showing off.
These are the signs that greet you in different spaces of Sodabottle Openerwala. If you’re in Delhi and miss the Irani cafes of Mumbai, it’s the place you would head to, the first outlet of which was launched in 2013 at CyberHub Gurgaon. Currently, there are three outlets in the national capital and once seated in any of their outlets you feel the Parsi vibe.
Mumbai too has three outlets while Bangalore and Hyderabad has one each. “All our outlets have 45 to 70 seats and Berry Pulao is our signature dish. Apart from this, we have our Salli Boti, Dhansak, Bohri Kheema Pav, Eggs Kejriwal, Kundapuri Prawn, Smoked Brinjal Patio which are the most loved by the guests,” says Chef Irfan Pabaney, Country Head, SodaBottle OpenerWala.
The moment you enter the American Connection Diner, located at the India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, it’s as if you are transformed to 1950s America.
Posters of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boops, The Beatles and more adorn their walls, with the black and white tiles and bright colours adding to the vibe of the place.
It is based on the concept of the American diner, started by Water Scott, an entrepreneur from Rhode Island, who refashioned a horse-pulled wagon into a car which served coffee and sandwiches to people late at night.
“People relate to a restaurant for food, but my connection with The All American Diner, a landmark bistro in the Delhi restaurant scene, is beyond food. It may sound a little surprising, but my first visit to the restaurant was for an interview for an offshore job. I was offered the job and I kept going back to the restaurant even after I returned to India after more than a year to relive the memory. Gradually, I also started falling in love with its weekend brunch. At around Rs 700 plus taxes it is a killer deal. Much before Delhi was flooded with brunch deals by the pubs, there was one and only The All American Diner. The alfresco sitting goes well with the brunch on winter mornings. In my opinion the brunch to a large extent is an authentic affair barring the dosa, which they serve to attract the vegetarians, nonetheless it is always a pleasure gorging on sausages with hot masala dosa,” says A. Sarwar Borah, who is a gastronome and runs a blog called Delhi Explore.