In the 1998 Hollywood romantic film, You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, a classic face-off between the neighbourhood ‘mom-and-pop’ book- store versus a national chain is the back-drop to the story. The struggle of the little shop to stay afloat in trying times and its subsequent failure is probably played out in myriad ways in our local neighbourhood as well. The grocery-store chain versus the local kirana store, the coffee-store giant versus the local chai-wala/Udupi hotel, the small personal-attention clothing store versus the franchised retail outlet are a mere blip on our radar.
Small businesses fold up or downsize due to the giants that we patronise due to many reasons: the convenience, the attractive ‘discounts’, at times the prestige of patronising them ( remember the three-hour queue outside the first Starbucks in South Mumbai?)
Now a new eatery in the Clifton locality of Karachi, Pakistan is stirring interests, whetting appetites and setting tongues wagging They have cheekily named themselves Sattar Buksh (sounds familiar?) and initially had a logo similar to this international brand, whose name you need to guess. But the name and notoriety gave them a good launch, creating enough curiosity to draw in the crowds. Their promo read-
‘If you’re looking for a satisfying cup of chai (tea), some fried andas (eggs) with bran bread, an exotic panini or just some inspiration for a project you’re working on, we’re coming to your hood.’
Indeed, with intriguing names on the menu such as Jhingaa La-La, Besharam Topless Burger, Dumdaar Bun Kabab, Kalu Halwai ke Gulab jamun and a repertoire ranging from Pizza and kebabs to cheese cake and daal- chawal, they were stirring interest and gastric juices in equal measure. After an exciting opening, the Facebook comments show some fumbling and bumbling over the next few steps, before they found their groove. Sadly, geographical and political difficulties mean that I am a mere online-onlooker in this gustatory drama.
Meanwhile, Starbucks having realized this violation of their copyright sent a letter to the proprietors of Sattar Buksh, and this particular David had to wisely concede ground to the modern Goliath. They changed their logo. And added a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer on Facebook “We have nothing to do with any foreign franchise nor do we want to categorise ourselves as mere coffee experts. We’re ‘Jutts of all trades’ and we cater to everyone!”
Now that this chapter of publicity and disclaimers is over and Sattar Buksh is settling down to real business, it does seem to be getting things right. Asad Khwaja of the Friday Times has praised the food, ambience and staff in his column. Facebook also has favourable comments streaming in. The favourable public response should hopefully continue to boost their morale and cash-flow.
But the point that I am trying to make is this-
Why do we time and again, completely desert our friendly time-tested neighbourhood businesses to patronise the large chains? Discounts, range of goods and the comfort of the blasting air-conditioning apart, should we not support the mom-and-pop stores, at least some of the time? Provided they give us good value for our money, why can we not choose them for our patronage?
One wonders just how many small businesses go bust in spite of offering good, personalized service because we have abruptly taken our custom to some swanky, ambience-laden outlet with English-speaking staff ?
As the male lead played by Hanks in the movie writes : The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino
FYI- The filter coffee in our local South Indian Udupi in Matunga, Mumbai is brought promptly to my table, can be strengthened with extra coffee if need be and costs about 20 per cent of this fancy concoction in the swanky cafe.
Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar is a practicing Anaesthesiologist working in Mumbai. She loves conversations, meeting people, reading and listening to Hindi film songs. She writes about anything that moves her. She blogs at http://ujwalasblog.wordpress.com