| Revellers jostle for space on Park Street, brightly illuminated for Christmas. Picture by Pabitra Das
The neon signs are in place, the trees are all lit up, the crowds come streaming under the Christmas confetti lining the carnival corridor. But beneath the glitter and gloss, there is something amiss on Park Street that has creased the food trade’s furrows. The bottomline: a few full nights don’t make a year.
Business for Park Street restaurants is down by around 20-25 per cent, compared to the same period last year. And almost everybody is feeling the pinch. “November was a terrible month and there are little signs of a sustainable change in fortune,” laments Sunny Puri of Trincas, struggling to meet last year’s targets despite a 10-20 per cent hike in food and beverage rates. Desperate to fill up the empty spaces in the afternoons, the fountainhead of Park Street’s swinging Sixties is doing combo lunches for a mere Rs 100.
Park Street, admits the trade, is losing its ‘food street’ crown to specialised, popular fare further south. “Volumes are down nearly 25 per cent, and at least 10 per cent would be going to the new places, mostly south of the city,” declares Nitin Kohli of Shenaz. Kohli, also a director of Grain of Salt at 22, Camac Street, blames the “general recession” and the inherent disadvantages of Park Street like “parking, one-way traffic, early closure and eroding quality of crowd” for the slump.
With Calcutta’s traditional cuisine course losing ground to the Ballygunge belt and the Lansdowne loop, it is clear that the predictable multi-cuisine Park Street food point has failed to evolve with the times. “Park Street was hip in the 60s and 70s, because the food, music and ambience were synergistic to that era. But, over the years, they have done little in terms of upgrading the product, be it food or decor, completely defying marketing tenets,” observes Anjan Chatterjee, managing director of Mainland China, on Gurusaday Road. Chatterjee also feels Calcuttans have become far more demanding and adventurous when it comes to fine dining. “You don’t want to go to the same place to try the same old dishes and suffer the same fossilised waiter with the same deadpan face,” he adds.
Bibi Sarkar, of fusion food fame at Taaja’s, on Dover Road, pushes the point further: “Calcuttans are looking for a brighter and more informal ambience, which most places on Park Street fail to provide. Besides, after being that side of the town the whole day for work, not many would like to brave the traffic to drive back to Park Street, more so when they have so many quality options nearer home now.”
Options aplenty and mostly specialised. Chinese at Mainland China or Red Hot Chilli Pepper, ‘coastal’ at Porto Rio, continental at Tangerine, Steam or Marco Polo, Bengali at Kewpie’s… The city’s gourmet has responded in style to the sumptuous spread on the table set far from Park Street.
The all-time low at Lyon’s Range and the availability of options are what Charles Mantosh, owner of Moulin Rouge, Magnolia, Waldorf and Floriana, attributes the “nearly 20 per cent” drop in business to. “Park Street restaurants do well during the Pujas and through the Christmas week, but that’s it,” he says.
Food on Park Street hasn’t seen “a single good phase” in the past 12 months. “With the high overheads and poor returns, many more smaller players could go the Blue Fox and Copper Handi way,” warns Kohli of Shenaz.