Features Friday, March 27, 2015 - 05:30

Siddharth Mohan Nair| The News Minute | Updated March 21, 2015 | 9.17 am IST

For most people, a beetroot is not something that they would eat with relish. But the Indian Coffee House (ICH) chain in Kerala has used the vegetable to make its signature cutlets that many of its patrons swear by.

From almost being shut down in the mid 1950s, the restaurant chain has held its own against stiff competition to be one of the most popular eateries in the state.

The coffee house chain was first started in 1936 by the Coffee Cess Committee, the first restaurant was opened in Bombay. There are now around 400 outlets all over India, and it is the biggest chain of restaurants in the southern state.

Ich Logo

Over the years, however, the chain incurred losses, forcing the union government to consider shutting it down. At this point, Communist leaders, especially those from Kerala, took a special interest in it and began a movement demanding that the ICH outlets be handed over to the workers of the Coffee Board.

Once the government agreed, the workers organized themselves into the Indian Coffee Workers’ Co-operative and since then the ICH has achieved not just financial stability, but, more importantly, it had secured for itself a place in the palates of its patrons.

The first Society was formed in Bangalore on August 1957 and the outlet by the newly formed society opened in Delhi on 27th December 1957.

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In Kerala, Communist leaders like A.K. Gopalan, T.K. Krishnan and N.S. Parameswaran Pillai spearheaded the movement. The ICH in Thrissur was the first to be started in Kerala in 1958, and it was the fourth in the country.

Despite stiff competition from new restaurants, the ICH in Kerala has managed to continue to run all of its 51 outlets. There are a few specific cuisines in the ICH outlets in the state like French toast, bread omlette, etc for which attract large number of people. The coffee powder sold at reasonable prices is also a good source of revenue for the co-operative society in Kerala. 

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ICH Thiruvananthapuram

Given that the movement for the chain’s survival was spearheaded mostly by Communist leaders, after Kerala, another communist bastion – West Bengal – has the second largest number of outlets.

The ICH outlet in Kolkata opposite to the Presidency College is the most famous among all. Popular singer Manna Dey, immortalized the coffee house chain in a song “Coffee Houser Shei Addata”. The song is about a group of friends who would meet there regularly and how they now had little contact.

The Kolkata coffee house was truly an “adda”, or a meeting place for many leading intellectuals of the time, like Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. When the government decided to shut down the outlet in 1958, some professors of the Presidency College successfully petitioned the government against it, asking the government to take into consideration the heritage value of the hotel. 

Indian Coffee House

ICH Kolkata

“Over the years, the society (Indian Coffee House) has stuck to the traditional values of good taste, courteous service and unmatched quality” and it is because of this that it still remains the biggest restaurant chain in Kerala, says their website. Now, the ICH is governed by an eleven-member body elected from within its employees. 

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(Images: ICH website)