Koshy’s keeps Old Bangalore alive in the IT age

By Vandana Rambaran

(Photo: Kelly Zegers)

Koshy’s has the essence of “old Bangalore” in a city that is changing around it. (Photo: Kelly Zegers)

Nestled amid the bustle of rickshaws and scooters on St. Marks Road and around the corner from Hard Rock Café is Koshy’s, a vintage bar and restaurant that Bangaloreans hail as a living piece of their heritage.

Open and airy, with faded yellow paint on the walls, mahogany pillars, marble floors and Formica table tops, Koshy’s feels like a restaurant from another era. It is bustling with activity, even at 11 a.m. on a Thursday.

Enter Prem Koshy, the man behind this old restaurant, which has served Bangalore since 1962. His grandfather’s bank collapsed during the Second World War, Koshy said, and instead of returning to the family’s home in Kerala, the senior Koshy began dabbling in the baking industry, churning out bread for sale at a grocery store and pharmacy he opened in Bangalore in 1952.

Prem Koshy, garrulous and hospitable, with his boisterous laugh and easygoing nature, refers to the restaurant as home. He is the first grandson in his family, a position of great pride in typical Indian patriarchies, and when he was a child, his grandfather would hoist him on his shoulders and carry him around the restaurant, introducing him to clients and friends. From the age of 8, Koshy was helping in the family business.

Prem Koshy (Photo: Kelly Zegers)

Prem Koshy, above, said he has had loyal customers for as long as he has been in business. (Photo: Kelly Zegers)

“Food was always a big thing in Malu families,” he said, referring to his Malyalee roots in Kerala.

He boasted of over 60 years of loyal customers, many of whom have left Bangalore for brief periods, returning year after year for a taste of the past.

“Every one of my regular customers has their favorite dish that they’ve eaten through five or six generations,” he said proudly.

As the restaurant’s glass door swung open again and again, Koshy, positioned at a table at the entrance, sipped water mixed with psyllium husk–a fiber with numerous health benefits—as befits a self-described yogi. He greeted each guest with a hug and kiss, and set dates and times to catch up in the coming weeks.

The Koshy family’s empire includes other restaurants in Bangalore, a department store and a grocery store nearby on St. Marks Road.

Although he and his family have traveled widely, bringing tastes from abroad to incorporate into the 800-item menu, neither Koshy nor his predecessors have been tempted to modernize the establishment to compete against the restaurants and businesses popping up in the rapidly industrializing city.

“That constant, which leads you to come back home and say ‘Oh my God, there is still home left’ is what keeps us the same,” he said.

St. Marks Road, where Koshy’s is located, has seen its fair share of the changes that are remaking Bangalore. Koshy reminisced that when he was younger, he dreamed of leaving “the one-horse town” that showed no promise of becoming anything other than what he’d always known.

“I would sit outside and play little games to see which car would come next on the road. There were only four cars that ever passed by. I would always bet little chocolates that the next car would be a Fiat,” he said jokingly. “Look now, you can’t even cross the road. That’s how Bangalore is.”

In Koshy’s view, other multigenerational restaurants and family-run stores have gone out of business because they didn’t hold on to the qualities that made them unique in the past. He asked, “Why do you want to change something that is perfectly fine the way it is?”

So he doesn’t.

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