Keeping up with trends and tastes, Café Central is going strong in clientele and fortunes, writes SHOMA PATNAIK
Among the older food stores of Panaji selling Indian munchies and snacks, Café Central is a hot pick. It figures as the store most likely to be suggested by residents to newcomers looking for a place to shop. Located in the mid-city, Dr Pissurlekar road or bang opposite the CCP building, it is the place where experts on good eating head to for the evening snack or to buy the longer keeping nibbles for the kitchen cupboard at home.
Like all bakery shops selling cakes and confectionaries, Café Central emanates a tasty aroma. You get a whiff of it as you near the place from the 18th June Road side. After which the tangy-sweet fragrance engulfs full blast, as you enter the shop. Inside, the place is jam packed with customers, especially if you walk in at peak evening hours from 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. In these brief hours, orders for eggless cakes, samosas, pao, batawadas are quickly taken and fulfilled until the loaded shelves are nearly cleared out.
Café Central owes its popularity to three smart partners - Mr Ravindra Gayatonde, Mr Dayanand Bandekar and Mr Kedar Bandekar who have a 50:25:25 stake in the business. But, it is Mr Gayatonde who usually man’s the cash counter, taking time off to get down to talking. Ask him about the secret behind the shop’s fame and he is modest enough to think on the reply.
It could be “innovation in food items” he says that has translated into regular introducing of new stuff to add to the range. For instance, the mushroom samosa, which is an original recipe or other tasty bites like corn patties or the paneer makhani rolls.
Another reason for continuing reputation, he thinks is the goodwill earned through years of existence and also the loyalty of regulars. Then of course there is freshness in fare that is its biggest USP.
Customers point out that like fair-minded local eateries, the café offers value for money. Its rates are affordable and quality maintained with snacks crunchy and crisp. The fillings in the savories are wholesome and taste as good as made at home.
Café Central has an annual turnover of above Rs one crore, which is growing at a healthy rate. It makes profits after accounting for the salaries of around 30 employees and costs incurred on ingredients and other overheads. The profits are due to volumes as the owners keep a reasonable margin on the selling prices.
All the food is made in the kitchen behind the store. One would not realize it, but at the rear of the shop there is a fair amount of space to house the cooking area, the store and a small office. “Having all facilities nearby is a great cost saving as it saves on transportation, helps oversee quality and generally help to keep an eye on things,” explains Mr Gayatonde. He points out that in the food business, it is crucial to be vigilant, supervise the kitchen and control quality.
Like the cafés of Panaji, Café Central has an old history. It was started by the late Mr A S Gayatonde in 1932 when it soon went on to become a happening place of those times. In the old days, the café was located opposite to the municipal garden, Panaji and was famous for its puri bhaji.
But after moving to present premises, it shifted focus to sells confectionaries and Indian snacks. The shift in address as well as fare has not affected its reputation and fortunes. As for the future, says Mr Gayatonde, “It lies in the new generation of the partners, viz members such as Mr Abhijit Gayatonde and Mr Rahul Bandekar” who are waiting in the wings to add their own touch of innovation to the café.
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