Those lazy afternoons digging into a tall glass of hot chocolate fudge, hurried dinners over a footlong before a movie and boisterous gatherings over pizzas, burgers and of course ice creams. The moods were many, the name one—Nirula’s.
For more than one generation of Delhiites, it was nostalgia time on Thursday with news of the death of Deepak Nirula, the co-founder of Delhi’s first homegrown fast food chain who was instrumental in introducing them to fun food. That it was also fast food dawned much later.
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Deepak, whose death was reported today, died on Tuesday. He was 70.
Under Deepak and his cousin Lalit Nirula, Nirula’s expanded to several Indian cities with as many as 85 stores. Though business changed hands from the Nirula family to Malaysia’s Navis Capital Partners in 2006, food lovers from across the city remember it to be their first encounter with western fast food.
Born on April 3, 1952, Deepak graduated in hotel management from Cornell University in the US in 1974.
The Nirulas cousins opened the first Nirula’s outlet in Connaught Place in 1977. What was once a family hotel and restaurant opened by their fathers Lakshmi Chand and Madan Gopal in 1934 became the legendary Nirula’s chain with restaurants across the city.
It was the chain that introduced Indians across generations to ice cream sodas, the concept of hash browns to go with burgers, mustard on your pizza, salad bars and till then unusual flavours such as ‘jamoca almond fudge’ and ‘lime ice’.
Some 30 years ago, a movie night wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Chanakya outlet of Nirula’s for Delhi-based businessman Abhijeet Dutta.
“Those were the days when we would visit the Nirula’s after watching a movie. Their mutton burger and sizzler were amazing. It was India’s first McDonald’s and Pizza Hut,” recalled Dutta, now in his 40s. A full scoop of a favourite ice cream at a Nirula’s parlour would inspire B Sundaresan and his brother to study hard for their exams some 25 years ago.
“Our father would hitch us onto his bicycle and take us to the Gole Market outlet. The ice creams at Nirula’s were a postpaid bribe from our father to have us perform better in exams. And we did,” remembered Sundaresan, an entrepreneur in his 30s. The children, with report cards in hand, would line up at the counter at the nearest store and wait for their marksheets to be stamped with the “Nirula’s Scholars” certification, he said.
The happy children would return with their choice of ice cream, along with happier fathers who didn’t have to pay for it under a special exam result offer run by the Nirula’s in the late 90s.
Nirula’s quickly rose in popularity to become the go-to place for Delhi families on weekends and special occasions.
In the Nirula’s dream of a food business, generations of Delhiites, young and old, found their happy place.
Delhi-based media professional Deepti Singh recalls having her first burger at Nirula’s at east Delhi’s Preet Vihar.
“It was an experience yet to be matched by any other place,” she said.
While food lovers of the city remember the brand for its authentic fast food menu and the wide range of ice cream flavours, Taran Deep, one of those who worked under Deepak Nirula, said he was a “visionary and inspiration to all”.
“He was very strict, disciplined, focussed and to the point whether it was his professional life or personal. These were the traits and his futuristic vision that helped Nirula’s grow so big. He would personally be involved in several decisions that were later adopted by other international brands, including the concept of ice cream cake and so many different flavours of ice creams,” Deep, who worked with Deepak from 2000 till 2003, told PTI.
Even though she worked under him for only three years, he continued to mentor her, she said.
“He believed in the sense of community and would host more than a hundred of us every year for Nirula’s alumni meet at his place in December,” she said.
She said Deepak had been a Parkinson’s patient for some years now and his health had been deteriorating.
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