Indian Coffee House: Even in Covid times, a story that’s brewing
In the last two months, Covid-19 has totally changed the way we live, work and think. Social distancing has become a new norm, the mask a new accessory. But one thing Covid could not change is the loyal clientele of Sector 17’s iconic Indian Coffee House, who have been devoted fans for more than five decades.
With further relaxation in the fourth-phase of lockdown, allowing eateries to open their kitchens for home deliveries or take-away from Tuesday, more than 100 of the café’s old customers strolled over to the Sector 17 market complex to enjoy their hot coffee. The only difference now is that for the first time, since ICH opened in Chandigarh (first in Sector 22 in 1964, later shifted to Sector 17 in April 1970), the brew was served in disposal glasses and for takeaway only.
“I visited Indian Coffee House for the first time in 1974 as a teenager, and since then it is an integral part of my life. My friends and I enjoyed our last coffee here on the evening of March 21, and at that time we were the only ones. Since then, we have eagerly awaited the day we would enjoy our cup of coffee again,” says Dr Rajesh Dhir, 59, head of department of ENT at the Sector 16 government hospital.
On Tuesday, after almost two months, the regular group of six came together for their round of coffee, he says, adding that three of them got their own cups while the rest took their coffee in disposal glasses.
“For the last two months, on account of professional commitments, I have had a hectic schedule, like every other health service personnel, in the battle against the virus. But Indian Coffee House’s coffee has rejuvenated me. It’s (referring to ICH coffee) the only addiction I have,” added Dr Dhir, who is also the president of Indian Medical Association’s Chandigarh chapter.
Ramesh Dutt, manager at ICH, Sector 17, is all smiles. “Today more than 100 of our regular customers came for coffee. But in view of the UT’s guidelines, we couldn’t invite our decades old customers inside and had to serve them in disposable cups for takeaway,” says Dutt.
Apart from hot coffee, there were orders for other food, too, at ICH. “Our Tuesday sale was about ₹5000, but before lockdown, our average daily sale was around ₹60,000 to ₹70,000. We are hoping for better sales in coming days. Even during this health crisis our customers have shown faith in us, so we have to go out of our way to serve them,” says Dutt.
The four-year-old Sector-36 ICH branch also opened on Tuesday for takeaway and most customers ordered coffee, as per Arjun Singh, manager at the branch.
Set up in May 1964, the café has hosted top dignitaries such as former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, deputy prime minister Devi Lal and hordes of Bollywood stars.
The Indian Coffee House is a one-of-a-kind eatery. It is perhaps the only chain in the country where employees themselves are the employers. After the All India Coffee Board decided to shut down its branches of Coffee Houses across the country in 1957, it retrenched its class four workers.
The ‘redundant’ workers, under the guidance of AK Gopalan, then All India Coffee Board Labour Union leader, and Member of Parliament Subhadra Joshi, formed their own co-operative societies which came to be known as ‘Indian Coffee Workers Co-operative Society’. Soon, the co-operative society started its own branches of Indian Coffee House in several states. The first one came into being in Delhi on October 27, 1957, while the Chandigarh branch in Sector 17 opened in May 1964.