CHENNAI: Are you even friends if you haven’t planned at least one potential business together? Well, Newjin Shalom, Arun Kumar and their friendship circle sealed the deal nearly 15 years ago, when they found themselves day-dreaming — while staring at Barista , which was beginning to set the mood for the place — about setting up a cafe at Besant Nagar for the authentic beachfront experience. After years of dwelling on the details of the fantasy cafe, the friends went their separate ways in work and way of life. It was a To Let board in the place where Barista stood at the start of the pandemic that brought the band back in action. Now, Elliot’s Promenade has an exciting addition — Jack Miller Cafe.
What was once a beige-orange affair in the Barista days is now a swanky blue-white phenomenon, reminiscent of its Puducherry cousins. With a minimalistic kitchen on the ground floor and a limited yet cozy dining area above it, Jack Miller is keen on curating the food and ambience that delivers you all the simple fun and cheer that a beach day has to offer. “We are having to go to Mahabalipuram or Pondy for the beach feel — for the shacks and beer. We wanted that within the city, along with music too. While there are a couple of pubs here, we wanted a cafe for the non-alcoholic experience,” narrates Newjin.
With this in mind, work on the cafe began soon after the pandemic. Just as the business idea was thought up by friends of a like mind, it was brought to life with their help too. While Newjin worked on the brand and aesthetics of the shop, Arun handled the operations part of it. Mithuna Maran, an architect friend who had come home for a break from her Masters programme in the UK, designed the interiors. Dani, the group’s resident musician, organised the live music set-up that accompanied the cafe’s launch this month; there’s more on the cards for when the government’s restrictions on beach access eases.
“People starting a business usually have a plan in place before they take the plunge. It was not the same for us. We first saw the building; only then did we think of this business. And there were a lot of unexpected problems, like the multiple lockdowns. Yet, we were confident we’ll see this through. Because this was very close to our heart. We’d talked about it so much over the years that it came to us naturally,” he recounts, as Vijayakumar Manikandan of Chefs M & N piles my table with select items from their menu.
There are two salads — one with the humble hummus and harissa-tossed chickpeas and the other with a refreshing mix of watermelon, lettuce, garlic cheese cream and chermoula, zucchini fingers with a side of olive jalapeno mayonnaise, chicken popcorn and a big whopping pulled chicken burger with a mountain of fries. At 7 pm on a night when the beach road has been shut down for a temple festival, it was a veritable feast in a restaurant for one. Propped by the glass wall overlooking the gorgeously empty beach, the “simple and cheerful” food made for ideal companions. And that’s the idea, says Vijay.
“If you look at the restaurants here, there’s a restobar that serves very good food; the rest have a whole lot of junk food. It’s not like you only have to eat junk food at the beach. All our food is fresh. Besides, we wanted to have a laid-back atmosphere. So the food was curated accordingly. One salad has hummus — it’s something you sit down, take slowly and enjoy with pita bread. The other comes with fresh watermelon. You come in on a Sunday morning and want to have something cheerful, this is it. Or someone coming in for a business meeting can go for a couple of starters and mocktail and pick the corner table for work. If you’re on a first date and looking for simple food, that’s what we want to offer,” he shares, adding that the menu is a simple affair with only a few variants for each category.
Fun in the future
Soon, they plan to have 6 am Sunrise Breakfasts on the weekends, says Newjin. That’ll certainly be a first among peers. In due time, music events will be a regular addition to meals at Jack Miller. Be it single-piece live performances or patio concerts on weekends, there are a number of artistes they would like to collaborate with. Towards that end, Jack Miller is more than just a cafe, he says. “Who is this Jack Miller? He is supposed to be this character of mystery but plenty of fun. He’s supposed to represent such a spirit in all of us. We wanted to create this as an experience. So, we would like to add some more value to Jack Miller further. From hosting musicians here, we’d like to open a club to offer a bigger platform for independent artistes. From there, we’d take it to other big cities too. We want to build Jack Miller as a brand and this is just the beginning,” he concludes.