BANGALORE: Airlines Hotel, a landmark eatery dating back to almost half a century in the city, has reopened after obtaining a licence. The property owner has apparently moved the court once more not to allow it to function. However, people seem to be stumbling upon the good news that the eatery has thrown its doors open once more through word of mouth and social media.
"I think most of the people (regulars), save an odd few, are back," owner Diwakar Rao told City Express, estimating the number of customers at about 2000 a day.
As word spread over the past couple of weeks, he said, he has had people walking up to him at malls and at the cinema, offering "plants, cups of coffee, a handshake", congratulating him.
When Rao's father S N S Rao started the hotel 46 years ago, the land, which belonged to Haji Ibrahim Wakf Trust, was leased to Kalarickal Thomas. Thomas, in turn leased it out to the senior Rao, and a licence for the hotel was issued in the former's name and was renewed in 1995 for 60 years.
Soon after Rao passed away, and so did Thomas in 2011. And the licence went to his son Kurien Thomas, who wrote to the BBMP that he wasn't interested in running the hotel, and that its licence should be cancelled.
A month later, in March 2012, BBMP sent Rao a legal notice, and refused him a licence without the owner's consent.
Two years later, this March, the Palike issued a notice, saying that the hotel was being run illegally after which Rao filed a case in the High Court and a stay order was issued.
Even after this, people continued to flock there for a couple of days till they accepted the inevitable and the media wrote obituaries. But Diwakar Rao didn't lay off any of his employees. Instead, he paid them full wages and kept all 90 in the premises.
"We weren't allowed to sell food, but we could feed our staff; our cooks were still with us," he said.
"That's how we were ready to restart in an hours' notice. We got permission on (July) 25th, and we opened on 26th," he added.
Corner House and Pizza Stop there, which had shut down with the restaurant and whose franchises Rao holds, have also started serving customers once more.
However, the matter is in court once more, with Thomas contesting the BBMP's decision to grant Rao the licence. Airlines is situated in a central location in the city where property prices have been shooting up. "Today you can't run a place like this, if you're just starting out. We can only afford this because the lease was finalised decades ago. We are in our 46th year now and I have been managing this place for 30 years, since my father (S N S Rao) passed away," he said.
Talking of the F&B business since the time Airlines was set up to now, Rao said it has seen a sea change. "Back then, there were only two kinds of restaurants, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. So there were us, then Koshy's, Brindavan and Three Aces. For nearly 20 years, it was just these few restaurants in the city. Then in the '80s came the Darshinis. Then came the pubs in the '90s. The cafe trend also picked up thanks to Coffee Day. It's not the same food landscape anymore," he said.
He has, he added, observed a change in the customer profiles of his eatery too. "Earlier we used to mainly get families here. But now we also have a lot of students coming in. Where else will you find an open space with so much greenery around in the middle of the city? Here you can get a coffee for `35 and you hang out with your friends for a couple of hours, and no one's going to ask you to leave."