Landmark restaurant at Anna Salai downs shutters forever – The Hindu

Chennai News

R. Sowri Rajan’s weekly calendar would be marked by a permanent fixture: Dining with his family every Thursday at Mathura, found on the northern end of Anna Salai. A resident of Chromepet, Sowri misses those Thursday dine-outs. If you thought he is avoiding non-essential travel due to the pandemic, think again. Mathura, located at the unmissable Tarapore Towers in Anna Salai, has downed its shutters forever.

Early last month, the vegetarian restaurant shifted all its belongings from a space it had occupied for more than 30 years ago.

“On March 12, I visited the restaurant with my family,” says Sowri Rajan. Little did he know that would be the last time he would dine at the restaurant. “For years, we have been dining every Thursday at Mathura. It has made so many special moments in our family more special.”

Into the electronic business, Sowri Rajan is a regular visitor to Ritchie Streets, an electronics business hub, and during one such visit around 30 years ago, he got introduced to this restaurant.

Sowri Rajan would particularly miss the rasam idly served with ghee, his most favourite item on Mathura’s bill of fare.

The Mathura management, which also runs the New Woodlands Hotel on RK Salai, say the pandemic had forced it to close down Mathura.

“My father and the owners of Tarapore Tower owners were friends and that was one of the reasons we set up the restaurant at the building, 35 years ago. Initially, the building management was promoting the place as a mini-mall as it was found in a prime location and also had an escalator. The view that the restaurant provided was a big draw,” says Murali Rao, managing director, New Woodlands Hotel.

In the initial years, Mathuru did not do well. “₹ 5,000 was the collection we made a day but after four to five years, word spread and we started doing very well,” Rao says, adding that they have never had to advertise about the joint.

Over the last five years, the restaurant has been finding the going tough, and the pandemic was the last nail.

During the lockdown, in its intense and later relaxed versions, the business was not sufficient to keep meeting the steep running costs, says Rao, adding that guidelines for running restaurants during the pandemic added to the challenge.

“When the Standard Operating Procedures for restaurants laid down that people above 55 years should not work, it was a big blow to us. Because, a majority of my senior cooks managing the kitchen are in that age bracket,” says Rao, adding that he had 90 staff until the pre-COVID days who took care of various operations at the restaurant.

Chennai Hotel Owners’ Association had asked its members to temporarily not allow kitchen workers above 55 years to work, as they fall in the vulnerable section.

I feel sad that we had to close the place but we were incurring huge losses and there was no way we could keep it going, he says.

While Buharis, also on the same section of Anna Salai and older, would draw people for its non-vegetarian fare, Mathura was patronised for its unique vegetarian fare. The Jain thali, was a favourite among a section of North Indians as the food was cooked without garlic and onions. Even Tandoor items were specially made for them.

S.K. Shreenivassan, former manager with the food outlet since 1984, says customising the food to the taste buds of different groups was one of Mathura’s strengths. Says Shreenivassan, “During the weekends, people did not mind waiting at the open terrace for even an hour if the food pleased them.”