Prince Paan Corner: Masters in the art of making paan
Selling paans was not considered by many as a worthwhile profession but his father, he says, never thought it was a petty businessdelhi Updated: Jan 21, 2018 00:51 IST
Yash Tekwani talks about paan with a passion very few people – even ‘paanwallas’ -- can match. Curiously, the owner of Prince Paan Corner considers himself the master of what he calls ‘the art’ of paan-making. He transformed the ubiquitous paan shop that he inherited from his father into a sought-after multi-chain brand with nine stores, including two in Thailand. He wishes to open one in London soon.
It is 4 pm on a chilly, grey December evening. Tekwani is busy serving paan to the ever-growing fashionable crowd of young men and women at his well-known shop in south Delhi’s posh GK-1. Dressed in a blue, check suit, three heavy gold rings adorning his fingers, Tekwani hardly looks like your neighbourhood paanwalla. “Paan-making is not just about putting a few ingredients together in a betel leaf,” he says. “And our family has proved selling paan is no petty business; we are known for our high quality and elite clientele.”
On a wall of Prince Paan Corner is a framed collage of Tekwani’s pictures with celebrities, including Bollywood stars. His customers seem pretty impressed as they chew paan and gawk at the pictures— Tekwani posing with Sridevi, shaking hands with Akshay Kumar, offering paan to Shah Rukh Khan and Lata Mangeshkar. “From the Ambanis, the Munjals, the Bachchans, to the Kapoors, they all are my customers. Almost all of Delhi’s top business families regularly order paan from us,” says Tekwani, who owns a fleet of cars and lives in plush house in Greater Kailash, not far from his shop.
Tekwani says he is only taking forward the legacy of his father who painstakingly set up the shop in 1965. His father, Bhagwan Das, came to India from Sindh post-Partition and did odd jobs -- working as a porter and selling eatables (pakodas) on the pavement before he started a paan shop. “Our family really went through hard times; my mother worked as a maid,” recalls Tekwani, as he rolls a paan for a customer.
Proudly counting the health benefits of paan, he also recalls how it turned out to be a panacea for poverty that battered his family for years. Their lives, Tekwani says, began to change for the better after his father set up a makeshift paan shop in GK in the 1960s. “My father used to have a khoka (makeshift shop) before he rented the present shop in Greater Kailash which, those days, was nothing more than a jungle,” says Tekwani. “Eventually, in the 1980s, he made enough money to buy the part of the building that houses the shop today.”
Selling paans was not considered by many as a worthwhile profession but his father, he says, never thought it was a petty business. “He had a tough time getting me admission in a decent school because I was the son of a paanwalla. Later, when we grew up, he struggled to find a suitable match for us,” says Tekwani, who joined his father’s business as a teenager. “But thankfully, my children do not have to face this problem because now Prince Paan is a big brand and people look at us as businessmen and entrepreneurs.”
The secret behind the success of his paan shop, he says, is the recipe his father created–which rid the paan of its stained image.
“What sets us apart is that our paan does not colour your lips red and create spit in your mouth, which is what makes paan-chewing a bad habit in the eyes of many. A paan is about fragrance and a feeling of freshness, not colouring your lips. The quality of a paan depends on the quality of leaves you choose, and more importantly how you prepare your ingredients,” says Tekwani, standing behind a counter with stacks of a variety of paan leaves, katha and chuna in designer steel vessels and over two-dozen kinds of supari and other colourful ingredients in open plastic cases. The shop’s shelves are filled with bottles of his own paan mixes.
His shop offers two dozen varieties of paans, including saffron, chocolate and Katrina and Kareena ‘specials’. The Katrina special, he explains, has no katha-chuna, and the Kareena special only has mint in it. “They are basically ladies’ paans,” says Tekwani as he rolls a Katrina special and packs it in a smart card board box with his shop’s branding. A paan could cost between Rs 30 and Rs Rs 1,100. “The costliest is the ‘honeymoon special’. It has herbs with aphrodisiac properties,” he says. “But the ‘fire paan’ with inflammable cloves that are set ablaze before placing in the mouth is popular these days.”
Tekwani is happy that his son, Prateek Tekwani, who has studied business management in London, is quite keen to take forward the family legacy. The younger Tekwani who we meet in the living room of his plush house seems as much proud of his family’s paan business as his father. “I am focusing on opening more stores, better branding and packaging. All our shops are run by our employees who are given intensive training at our flagship shop in GK,” says Prateek, sitting in the living room, where everything from the chairs to sofas to a large mirror on the wall has gold or silver finish.
“I personally visit all shops across the city to check on the quality of paan served there. I want to turn our paan shop into a global brand like McDonald’s,” says Yash Tekwani, who spends about five hours every day at his flagship GK shop.
The younger Tekwani says his family business has a great future as the tradition of paan eating is as strong as ever. “For the new generation, having a paan is a good refreshment. We have made eating paan a cool thing,” he says.