Holi is incomplete without thandai and for north Kolkata residents, there is no thandai like the one served at Shiv Assram. The more than four-decade-old-shop on 168, Bidhan Sarani, draws a colourful crowd of the young and the old every Holi.
My Kolkata tried to find out the secret behind the popularity of this modest shop and its main offering, while sipping on a glass of the famous Kesar Thandai.
From ghol to an elaborate menu
When Late Chandulal Gupta started Shiv Assram in 1978, the shop only sold ghol — a cool fix for hot summer days. Soon, lassi and thandai were added to the menu as he continued to manage the shop single-handedly.
The customers included students, shoppers and local residents who came to quench their thirst on scorching summer days and went back happy.
Of Chandulal Gupta’s four sons, three joined him to look after the business and the menu expanded with time. Milkshakes, lassis and coolers in various flavours were served. Syrups were used to add flavour to a base of milk, yoghurt or water.
“When my father started off, there were not many items on the menu. We were just selling ghol and classic lassi. Slowly as the demand increased, we added more and more drinks and flavours to the menu. Today, we have about 32 kinds of milkshakes, lassis and water-based syrup or coolers,” said Sachin Gupta, the youngest son of the owner.
The brothers work in shifts and take care of the shop in turns. The fastest movers on the menu are ripe and green mango lassi, Kesar Thandai and Kesar Badam Milkshake.
Secret recipe for Thandai
A glass of Kesar thandai at Shiv Assram is Rs 60Arnab Dutta
Shiv Assram follows a secret family recipe to make thandai, which consists of more than 10 ingredients. “We make our thandai mix at home, following a secret family recipe. Apart from badam, kesar and milk, we use a spice mix. I can’t reveal them specifically, but it includes saunf (aniseed) and jaiphal (nutmeg),” said Sachin Gupta.
Souvik Rana, a college student from Dum Dum, is a frequent visitor to Shiv Assram. “I came here last year after hearing from my seniors that this place serves the best thandai. I realised it is the best after tasting it. The thandai is very tasty and refreshing and one can keep drinking glass after glass,” he said.
Thandai craze before Holi and Shiv Ratri
Sachin Gupta is the youngest among the four brothers who run the shopArnab Dutta
The demand for thandai at Shiv Assram becomes “unmanageable” around Holi, according to Sachin Gupta.
Students from nearby colleges turn up in numbers. “Students from Scottish Church, Bethune, Jaipuria, Manindra Chandra, Bagbazar Women’s College, all come here for the thandai after they have played with colours on the campus. Other young boys and girls from various parts of the city and local residents come, too. The queue is long and all of us are busy at the shop. In spite of making gallons of thandai, sometimes we fall short,” Sachin Gupta said.
The Gupta brothers, along with their employees, start prepping for Holi days ahead. The thandai is made and stored in large drums from where it is poured into glasses. The owner says that they try to keep the menu moving, but it gets difficult for them to manage. “We can hardly manage to serve any other drink during rush hours on Holi and Dol. Shiv Ratri also sees a surge in demand for thandai,” Sachin Gupta said.
Sales were badly affected during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. However, things bounced back in 2021. “In 2020, we could hardly open our shop. Then, in 2021, we resumed and kept our shop open for a few hours. Back then, we made sure that the drinks were made and served hygienically. We still use branded milk and the same is used to set the yoghurt.”
What makes Shiv Assram so popular?
Sujoy Biswas (left) and his companion Tapan Pal are frequent customers of Shiv AssramArnab Dutta
Even with two drinks shops selling side by side on Bidhan Sarani, customers continue to flock to Shiv Assram. The owners say it’s their hospitality and blessings of Bhole Baba. The customers say it’s the vibe and impeccable taste of their drinks, especially the thandai.
“Our shop is 45 years old, whereas the shop next to ours is more than 65 years old. But we are blessed to be able to attract more customers. It is because of the relationship and hospitality we have maintained over the years,” Sachin Gupta said. He is confident that this legacy will be carried forward by the next generation, too.
The shop draws crowds from north Kolkata and also adjoining areas like Dum Dum, Kestopur, Salt Lake, Rajarhat and New Town.
Sujoy Biswas, from Bongaon, visits Hatibagan every month to buy raw materials for his business. “I have been visiting Shiv Assram for eight to nine years now. It is strange to see 10-15 people flocking this shop while the other shop remains empty. I personally visit Shiv Assram for its vibe. They play music and each of the shopkeepers are very affable. My favourites are the Kesar Thandai and the Chocolate Milkshake.”
The shop remains open 365 days a year, from 10am to 11pm. A glass of Kesar Thandai is Rs 60. On the days around Holi and Dol, the shop remains open till midnight.