A trip down the memory lane with Matthew Koshy of Bengaluru’s most iconic cafe and restaurant Koshy’s
Known as “the most iconic restaurant of Bengaluru”, Koshy’s café and restaurant is a legacy of humble workers and devoted customers. Presently, the operations are handled by brothers Prem and Matthew Koshy, grandsons of PO Koshy.
Bengaluru, the city of greenery, lakes, and good weather, is also home to a horde of cafes. But, ask any native Bengalurean about the OG player of the market and you will get one answer - Koshy’s. Started in 1940s, Koshy’s cafe and restaurant is now run by the grandsons of the founder PO Koshy, Matthew and Prem Koshy.
YS Weekender got the chance to talk to Matthew Koshy, fondly called Santosh by his friends. Vivacious and jolly, Matthew never misses a moment to talk about Koshy’s and his time here.
In this conversation, we gradually dig through the crevices of history of the eatery joint and the iconic family behind it.
YSWeekender: Could you guide me through the beginning of Koshy’s and its growth over the years?
Matthew Koshy: My grandfather PO Koshy was a senior executive at a private bank and decided to start his own food business. This led to one of the earliest hygienically run bakeries in the city in 1940. Based on the quality of our baked goods, Koshy’s soon got the privilege to supply bread to army bases and the defence department across the city.
Soon, he started producing bread and pastries for residents as well. Soon, Parade café became the go-to spot for journalists, writers, and businessmen. Koshy’s became an everyday spot for people, where they could come and have a coffee and chat in peace.
A few years later, we decided to open an air-conditioned section “Jewel Box”, a ‘No smoking’ area where families could come and eat. Foreigners loved the ambience along with the classic dishes we serve.
YSW: Do you think you have carried this in a way your grandfather would have wanted his business to sustain?
MK: My grandfather, upon starting this business, wanted to offer a good experience to his customers, whether it be the quality of food or the quality of the ambience. He did not want to make the place too gaudy, and tried to keep everything the same so that customers feel a sense of belonging when they come to eat here.
I remember a time when I was in a mechanical engineering class, I was called to the restaurant as the workers had gone on a strike with the union. Rather than worrying about the business lacking workforce, my grandfather was worried that the customers would be left with a hungry stomach. In that moment of crisis, I joined Koshy’s. Until now, my brother and I have sustained the homely feeling of Koshy’s and keeping the customers happy by feeding them on time.
YSW: It must have been wonderful to grow up around this place and its vibrancy. Has there been a change in the customers through the years?
MK: If you notice the crowd outside, you will see more white and grey head than black; and even the few black-haired customers you see, you’ll find 50-year-old men trying to hold their youthful charms with hair dyes.
The customers of Koshy’s have always loved this place - they’ve grown old with the restaurant. They would come and sit here with their friends talking about how things are going on in the family.
We don’t get many youngsters here, but when we do, they often blend in with the place, respecting the manners that the other customers display. Even though a hundred stories are told in Parade Café, customers aren’t disturbed by what the other table is talking about. We are happy we have been able to sustain this unique character of Koshy’s.
YSW: Being situated in a beautiful part of Bangalore - St. Mark’s Church and Church Street - has the surrounding evolved over the years?
MK: The sad part is that the beauty of the area has disappeared and it’s become congested and noisy. The beautiful little streets have lost their charm over the years. There may be more restaurants and bars around but it has become difficult to run these places without planning and parking.
YSW: For a place doing as well as Koshy’s, opening another outlet would have been the next step, but you do not plan to do so.
MK: Since business hasn’t been the greatest and with the overheads going sky-high along with the constraints, we decided to not expand to avoid going into losses. Today, running these businesses is not easy with the pressure of the government and the collapsing system. We really struggle to function properly and be successful.
YSW: Finally, what is it like to hold the weight of this restaurant and its legacy? What would you like to tell today’s generation as a message?
MK: I feel today’s generation has lost the character of taking responsibility. There are very few youngsters I see who put an effort into things. I am very close to kids of my friends, my nephews and nieces, and I’ve talked kids out of dropping from college, running away from home, or simply lying around in the bed and not looking for work.
I was just as quiet and nervous as you all, but life taught me to have the courage to face things. When I started working here, I would have to wake up at 4:15 am to come and clean the vessels before going to college.
My parents made it a routine for me to do things on my own and that is what the generation today must learn. I have a son and daughter and I’ve made sure to imbibe these qualities in them.
Written by: Vivian Paul
Edited by: Saheli Sen Gupta