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Backstory: When Nirula’s hot chocolate fudge was the flavour of Delhi 

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Backstory: When Nirula’s hot chocolate fudge was the flavour of Delhi 

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Crowds flocked to Nirula's outlets for their affordability and the wide choice on the menu. Where else could you grab a big boy burger with mustard sauce while your parents enjoyed butter chicken, dal makhani and naan accompanied by some chillies in vinegar and followed by lime ice or a shake? It was the classic family restaurant, but incredibly, its positioning was such that it drew the teenage crowd as well.

Backstory: When Nirula’s hot chocolate fudge was the flavour of Delhi 
Before the big foreign fast food chains came calling, India had Nirula's. Or at least, Delhi and a few other cities did. Started in 1934 as a small 12-room hotel in Connaught Place in New Delhi by two brothers — Lakshmi Chand Nirula and Madan Gopal Nirula — the startup met with early success.
Buoyed, the brothers who had been running a photography shop in Connaught Place then set up a restaurant called Nirula's Corner House in 1942. With its bands, cabarets, magic shows and flamenco dancers, it soon became the go-to place for Delhiites.
By the early 1950s, Nirula's was running three popular theme restaurants in the capital —‘La Boheme’, an Austro-Hungarian restaurant; ‘Gufa’, an Indian restaurant, and the 'Chinese Room'.
The family had its pulse on the evolving market for eating out and with Lalit — son of Lakshmi Chand — back from an educational stint in the US, in 1977, the first of their quick-service restaurants was opened, supplemented soon by their trademark ice cream parlours.
While Delhiites flocked to the outlet for burgers, pizzas, and submarine sandwiches, it was really the 21 flavours of ice creams in cones, cups and glasses that became the major attraction. Suddenly, going out for a "21 Love" or a "Hot Chocolate Fudge" or a "Zafrani Badam Pista" was the hip and happening thing to do.
Soon they also opened 'Potpourri', possibly the first such salad bar in the country. Over the next decade, many more outlets came up, including those at popular destinations like the one next to the Chanakya cinema.
The crowds flocked to these for their affordability and the wide choice on the menu. Where else could you grab a big boy burger with mustard sauce while your parents enjoyed butter chicken, dal makhani and naan accompanied by some chillies in vinegar and followed by lime ice or a shake? As an added bonus, the youngest member of the family could bag an extra scoop of ice cream if she carried her report card with good results. It was the classic family restaurant, but incredibly, its positioning was such that it drew the teenage crowd as well.
Liberalisation brought in multinationals, including McDonald’s and KFC, but the popularity of Nirula's only grew. While the Indian chain added more items to its menu, the MNCs had to Indianise theirs in an effort to pull some of the crowds away from Nirula's, which by now was serving some 40,000 customers daily at its 60 outlets, including two in Kathmandu.
The turn of the century, however, saw a decline in the Nirulas’ fortunes, and in 2006 Lalit and Deepak sold the brand to Navis Capital Partners, which soon roped in their nephew Samir Kuckreja to help run it.
Despite the new owners' best efforts, Nirula's would never reclaim its past glory, and after struggling for a few years, it again changed hands, with Navis selling off its stake to A2Z Excursions in 2012.
Today, some outlets survive as a reminder of its past glory, but a new generation will never know the sheer joy of a chilli chicken pizza and mango with fresh cream.
—Sundeep Khanna is a former editor and the co-author of the recently released Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions. Views are personal
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