Started nearly 39 years ago by Narayan Rao, Corner House had actually begun as a fast food joint before becoming an ice cream parlour.

Features Food Sunday, July 11, 2021 - 11:56

Corner House… for many of us in Bengaluru just hearing the name conjures up an image of our favourite ice cream from there. It could be the Hot Chocolate Fudge Junior; scoops of vanilla ice cream, covered in the famous fudgy chocolate sauce, and garnished with nuts. Or maybe the Peach Melba, where each bite is a perfect balance of the creaminess of the ice cream, the delicate sweetness of the peach and the crunch of peanuts. 

From grandparents to grandchildren, Corner House has been the go-to ice cream spot for generations of folks in the city. And over the years it has remained largely the same. It is the kind of place you will find couples canoodling over a shared banana split and friends sitting around chatting while digging into their ice cream; children will be seen standing near the counter excitedly picking the flavour they want, while parents watch patiently. 

Corner House has become an icon of sorts for the city. And this year, it will be 39 years since Narayan Rao started Corner House. Here is an interview TNM did with him in 2015.

In May 2015, Rao’s calculated risk – Corner House – completed 33 years. "Surviving thirty-three years has been an achievement in itself. The past three decades have been eventful," Rao says.  

As an agriculture graduate in his twenties, Rao got a job with the Oberoi Hotel in Kolkata. It was an unconventional job and his salary was Rs 100, but Rao says he could not see himself as a "pesticide salesman".    

Later, he went on to obtain a diploma from Austria, then worked as a chef in Switzerland, and even went to Canada to pursue an MBA. But once back in India and without a mentor, he was told, he was wasting his time and effort trying to make a living here. 

After a brief stint with Nirula's in Delhi, he returned to Bengaluru to open Corner House on Residency Road, with some help from his father and a friend. But starting an ice cream parlour was still a big risk.

"I didn’t think we’d be this successful. I didn’t have a vision initially and went with the flow. Growth happened slowly. It took me 17 years to open my first branch," says the 57-year-old.     

Narayan Rao of Corner House

Not many know this, but Corner House had actually begun as a fast food joint. Back then, they had just three ice cream sundaes on the menu-hot butterscotch, chocolate and mint fudge and hot chocolate fudge.   

Over the next few years, Rao experienced moderate success to "abject failure" in the restaurant business, until one day he decided to open an exclusive ice cream parlour. "Lake View was the only ice cream parlour in the city then. People would queue outside their store each day. There was a big market for ice creams and I knew what I had to do," says Rao.   

What follows then, is a story of shrewd marketing combined with quality products. Rao decided to put on display samples of the ice creams they had on their menu for the customers. "We wanted to show people what exactly they’d be getting when they ordered a particular flavor as opposed to showing them photographs," he says.   

Along with his team, Rao made a fridge with a visible door, out of an old Kelvinator vertical cooler. Since ice cream would melt in a coupld hours, they started using boiled rice and potatoes for the display. "With the toppings on, no one could differentiate them from the original," says Rao.  

The display worked like a charm and made their ice creams an instant seller.  And since then, there’s been no looking back.     

Today, Corner House has 15 stores across Bengaluru, of which six are franchises. A new store is set to come up in Manyata Tech Park and there are talks of two more stores in the city.    

"We also plan to open stores in B-category towns in the state, including Hubli and Mangaluru," Rao says. But adds that he is skeptical about opening Corner House stores outside of Karnataka as he does not want to dilute the brand. 

"There is a desire to expand, but it also raises the question of how to monitor all those stores," says Rao. "If the person you franchise it to does not take care of your brand, you will never be able to enter the region again. It can ruin you," says Rao. He adds that he has received some 800 applications from those interested in opening a Corner House franchise from across the world.

"There’s nothing like manning the counter. I did it for 19 years and the adrenaline rush it gave me was like none other," he says. 

Of course there have been stray incidents of complaints, which have been mostly due to service related issues and not due to the quality of the products, he adds.       

He also shared one particular incident that touched him and has since stayed with him. One day, in the parlour’s Residency Road store, a dozen people arrived to gorge on ice creams. One of them approached Rao and asked him to join the table.     

"When I went there, they all gave me a standing ovation. The people included four generations of a family who had been coming to Corner House," Rao says smiling.   

This story was first published in TNM on April 25, 2015.

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