In 1923, like a few other Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, Rashid Kohinoor opened his restaurant in the then Bombay. And today, the most famous and loved restaurant is in the able hands of the third generation, serving up the best Parsi and Iranian food to the city. Talking to Restaurant India, 93 years old, Boman Kohinoor, who remembers the restaurant as a child started by his father, proudly shares that how his restaurant has catered to the celebrities’ not in India but also globally. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
What is the history of Kohinoor Restaurant in India?
My great grandfather was a farmer and had come to India from Iran and was not educated. In India, Parsi’s helped them to start Chai, bakery business. Then, my father who came was also from the region was three year old, he grew up here. British people developed Mumbai and my grandfather was in restaurant business so my father too started with the business and launched this restaurant in the office area of Ballard Estate.
My father started this restaurant in 1923 when I was born, so I am as old as this restaurant. After my father died in road accident in 1939 my uncle started running this restaurant as a substitute. I joined the legacy in 1943 after finishing my education. And completely took over the business.
How has been the journey over the years?
During 1944-1946, Second World War the restaurant was acquired by Britishers which they returned to us after Independence. The restaurant was completely smashed; the building was completely licking and spoiling my ceiling. In the British time we use to serve continental food but when British left we started with Mughalai food along with continental food. Then, in 1982 my wife Ms Bachchan Kohinoor, being a Parsi lady, introduced Parsi dishes and sali boti chicken dishes. We are now serving popular Parsi dishes specialized as Indo-Iranian beri Pulav, beri booti, beri chicken and beri fish. Since, beginning we have been specialized in chicken, mutton, fish and vegetable. The price of our food starts from Rs 500 and goes up to Rs 2000.
How was the response for Parsi food initially?
When my wife was posted in Tehran, she learnt this food there and she modified it for the Indian taste. There in Persia people don’t eat spicy food. So, my wife started with non-spicy food, which became Indo-Iranian food.
What was your interest before joining the family business?
After doing my inter-science, I wanted to go for medical, but we were nine brothers and sisters and I had to look after them as my father died when they were all minor. There was financial crunch so, instead of going for medical, I had to join this family business. We grew up at carter road, Fort area.
My life was quite diplomatic. My wife was a lawyer I was helping her in the office. My brother was working here during that time I was partner in Mastani restaurant at Metro Cinema. After few years I decided to join or own restaurant as my brother and cousin brother was helping me.
The name Kohinoor is attached with which prominent guests visiting?
We have the pleasure of receiving prominent personalities like Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Vidya Balan, Ranbir Kapoor, former cricketer Azharuddin, and American ambassador Peter Berlin. Bollywood movie Tezab was shot in this hotel, the Hollywood movie Such A Long Journey was also shot in this hotel. The actor of the Hollywood movie had come from London and the director had come from Canada to taste our food.
Over the years, how have you preserved the uniqueness while maintaining your health?
This is not the question of being unique the question is of sustaining in the industry. In 50’s there were around 400 Iranian restaurants in Mumbai. And today, there are hardly 30 to 40. The most important thing is that I have been careful about my health. My grandfather advised me about how to maintain the health properly. He died at the age of 114. He advised me five thing no smoking, no drugs, no liquor, no gabling, start walking and jogging. I did jogging for nine years. I have participated in 800, 1500 and 2000 meter running events and high jump events and I came first in all these events at the age of 24.
Why Iranian chai- bun maska restaurants are vanishing with the going time?
The Iranian restaurants will disappear after 20-30 years. They are all converted into bear bar. Now, there is no more chai and bun maska being served. The concept of chai and bun maska will go out. There few Iranian Parsi restaurants like Kayani at Dhobi Talav, Sashani, Merwan at Grant Road are still serving chai and bun maska.
What are the difficulties that you have come across over the years?
During World War II there were difficulties we couldn’t serve double dishes to the consumers. But now we are facing difficulties with fire brigade, huge BMC interference, lot of regulations and licenses. Despite I have obtained 8 to 10 licenses, BMC is forcing us for multiple NOCs for every small reason like gowdon, garbage, placing cylinder, adulteration and police.
As this was built by my father 94 years ago the BMC asks for paper proof which I cannot give.