Covid effect: Storm brewing in Shimla’s iconic coffeehouse
This is no storm in a teacup as Shimla’s iconic Indian Coffee House, equally famous for its piping hot political debates and brews, stares at closure amid piling losses over the last year.
The beleaguered Indian Coffee Workers Cooperative Society, which manages the coffeehouse, has not been able to pay salaries to around 250 staffers in seven outlets across the country in 10 months. With the losses mounting to a whopping ₹3 crore, the society has called a board meeting to decide the fate of the outlet, which captured the zeitgeist of the queen of the hills.
The first outlet of the Indian Coffee House franchise had opened in New Delhi on October 27, 1957, the coffeehouse on the Mall Road opened five years later in 1962 and went on to famously count distinguished leaders such as the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, former deputy PM Lal Krishna Advani and former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai among its customers. Even the incumbent PM of India, Narendra Modi, had vouched for the establishment’s coffee. Catapulting the unassuming coffeehouse to the limelight, PM Modi, who was in Shimla for the swearing-in ceremony of the BJP government in December 2017, had tweeted, “After two decades, the coffee of the coffee house of Shimla tastes great as before.”
With the Indian Coffee House being one of the busiest businesses in town, the society had opened another branch in Shimla near the State Bank’s main branch around one-and-a-half years ago but it had to be closed in March amid accruing losses, the older branch seems to be resigned to a similar fate. The society operates two ICHs in Chandigarh, two in Jaipur and one Allahabad.
No support from govt: Manager
The earnings of Mall Road coffeehouse have dwindled to ₹2,000 to ₹3,000 per day, making it difficult for the society to pay salaries to its staff of 47. Manager Atma Ram Sharma says, “The situation is grim as we have received no help from the government. We have to pay an annual water bill of about ₹3.5 lakh, monthly electricity bill of ₹15,000 and garbage bill of ₹ 11,000. However, sales have dried down amid the pandemic.”
“As such we are unable to keep employees on the payroll any longer. Struggling to make ends meet our employees have had to rain loans or dip into their provident funds. It has become impossible to keep the establishment running,” he said.
The society’s general secretary Rana Kalam Singh, said he had written to the Union finance minister seeking aid but did not get any response. “Now, when the main office of the Delhi-based society opens, the management committee will call a meeting, after which the general council may decide to close all coffee houses.”
The establishment was set up on the Mall Road on a ₹85,000 plot of land in 1962.