The evolution of Kyani and Co.


farokh-kHGF--621x414@LiveMint

The story of how the more innovative and adaptive of Indian businesses took on their famous foreign rivals after economic reforms were introduced

When burger chain McDonald’s came to town 20 years ago, exciting the city of Mumbai in the first flush of post-liberalization consumer boom, it worried Farokh Shokriye.

As the man who would later take over Mumbai’s oldest Irani cafe, Kyani & Co., Shokriye wasn’t sure if his humble Parsi chicken patties and traditional mawa cakes would withstand the competition from the mighty Big Mac.

They did—and that’s the story of how the more innovative and adaptive of Indian businesses took on their famous foreign rivals after economic reforms were introduced a quarter of a century ago.

Shokriye, who had worked at the beer company London Pilsner for more than a decade, didn’t plan on a life with Kyani and Co., established in 1904 by Iranian (known in India as Parsis) immigrants and operated by his family.

n 2000, Shokriye, then 40 years old, found himself at a crossroads. He could either migrate abroad—like most of his family—or continue his family’s legacy by taking over the Kyani cafe.

“I had plans to migrate abroad to settle down with my family in New Zealand. But somewhere down the line it dawned upon me that that would be very selfish on my part. All my cousins had left for the US; me and a cousin were the only ones left. My father and uncle were in their late 70s and his (father’s) health was also failing.

“The option was to go abroad and forego everything here—forego India, forego the shop, forego the legacy, be a little selfish. Or take over the business and grow. I took a call and thought it would be better if I settled down here in Mumbai and carried on.”

And so it was that Shokriye found himself running the Kyani cafe, a south Mumbai establishment whose high ceilings and period furniture evoke the charm and nostalgia of a bygone era.

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