And about time isn't it? The chain which pioneered the 'peeja' and burger culture in Delhi is finally getting its act together. But now, with the Macs, Pizza Huts and Dominos firmly established - is it too late?
Once upon a time, whenever I visited Delhi, a trip to Nirula's was a cherished ritual. We had 'Open House' and 'New Yorker' in Bombay but they paled in comparison. "Why doesn't Nirula come to Bombay?" I would sigh every time I finished eating there.
Well, Nirula continued to expand in Delhi and in the northern region. But somewhere along the way, things changed. Mention 'Nirula' and my younger cousins would wrinkle their nose and declare,"Ab wahan koi nahin jaata hai".
In short, the young and cool crowd abandoned the eatery, although Nirula's still remained numero uno when it came to ice cream. And legendary for its 'Hot Chocolate Fudge'.
Of course, competition was bound to affect Nirula. But it didn't try hard enough to stay ahead. Nirula broadened its menu to include everything from chhole bhature to Indian meals - which was not a bad idea in itself. But the decor, the menu, the overall brand - all remained frozen in time.
As one kid puts it,"Nirula is the place where you go when you can't agree on where to go...". Another was more blunt and said,"It's the place where fat Punjabi aunties in polyster suits go to pig out". But of course, that would describe just about any fast food restaurant in Delhi!
The bottomline is Nirula's may seem thakela but it still has customers. And more importantly, a lot of goodwill. That's what Malaysian food company Navis Capital Partners has paid Rs 90 crores for. Of course, they know it's not going to be easy...
DNA reports: "The idea is to revive the Nirula's brand and make its presence felt across the country..." Moreover, the takeover also signifies a major revamp of all its outlets in Delhi. "Although we have decided to retain the name, we do plan to spruce up most of the outlets."
The menu will also change but some of the flagship products like the Big Boy Burger will be retained.
I think food is one area where Indian chains can give a run for the money to international chains. Because taste is a huge issue.
Everyone from Mac to Pizza Hut has been struggling to hit the right note. They've had to 'spice' up their menus, add paneer and otherwise adjust to Indian tastebuds. That's where the local guys have an advantage.
Where local chains lack is in systems, scalable models, big advertising budgets and an overall vision of where they want to be, say 10 years from now. With an infusion of capital, there's no reason Nirula's can't bring in the talent and the temperament to overcome those problems. And give the global giants a run for their rupee.
Better late than never... Let a new era of burger/ bhature battles begin!