More than just Goa’s ‘puri bhaaji’ specialists
No matter where in Goa you live, there is a very slim chance that you have not eaten at or heard of Café Tato or Tato’s as it is popularly known. Passed down over three generations, Café Tato was started in the early 1900s by Keshav Dhuri as a small joint serving tea and snacks. Though it was originally named Hindu Upahar Griha, somewhere between the 1920s and the 1930s, the name was changed to Café Tato as everyone, from family members to customers, used to lovingly address Keshav as ‘Tato’, meaning grandfather.
While the eatery was their mainstay, during the time of the Portuguese rule in Goa, the family tried their hand at other business ventures including importing of goods into Goa. However, once the Portuguese left Goa, they, too, left behind these other business ventures and chose instead to concentrate on the restaurant. Soon after liberation, they decided to branch out and opened a new venue in Mapusa, located near the Court complex. Unfortunately, due to differences in opinions and views, the family split up and with that, the Mapusa outlet of Café Tato was closed down.
Around the post liberation time, when Goa was undergoing major changes, Café Tato left Panjimites craving for its bhaaji as the restaurant was shut for almost six years due to construction of the new Souza Tower building. Once the new building was completed, they reopened the restaurant and were back on track providing Panjimites with their favourite morning and evening indulgence of puri-bhaaji and other delectable snacks. The biggest change in the Café Tato family took place in 1995, when they branched out to Margao. After a few struggles, they setup shop at Apna Bazaar and have been doing roaring business, right since day one. They also opened up a branch in Ponda, which later had to be shut down due to unforeseen circumstances. Another interesting venture they undertook was the management of the Railway Canteen at the Margao Railway Station. Not only was the canteen constantly packed with passengers, but residents of neighbouring areas also frequented it. However, this too had to be shut down due to conflicts with the railway bureaucracy. Undaunted, the Dhuri brothers ventured into bigger things, the chief among them being their resort, ‘Coco Beach Village’, positioned as a family resort and the perfect place to unwind.
Despite odds working against them at times, the owners of Café Tato, have not let it deter their spirits. Today, they are more than just a chain of restaurants, they have etched themselves as a local brand in the minds of their loyal customers, who can very often be heard recommending ‘Tato’s bhaaji’ to not just friends and family, but also tourists who throng the state. Though the menu at Café Tato is simple and not over-the-top elaborate, their quality is top notch, and the status of the restaurant is constantly being raised. What started out as a humble joint has now become a middle class eatery and the status is constantly increasing with the opening of its latest venture in Patto’s tony Gera Imperium, Tato’s Fine Dining.
Café Tato is famed for its piping hot ‘sukhi bhaaji’ among other delicacies like samosas, batatwaddas, mirchi, chai etc. and of course, the ever popular buns. Though they have retained authentic Goanness’ in their menu at their Souza Towers outlet, their Margao menu is quite diverse with dishes ranging from South Indian to North Indian fare, along with signature Goan delicacies. Tato’s Fine Dining has gone many steps ahead in terms of its menu. Taking the help from IHM lecturer, Lisa Norton-Dias, they have created a tongue tickling menu which includes an array of cuisines right from the Goan favourite of fish or prawn curry rice and associated dishes to the kebabs and the creamy curries of the North.
A chat with Sadanand Dhuri, grandson of Keshav, who now runs the Margao branch along with his brother Dinesh, reveals that they, along with Pradeep and Sunil who manage the Panjim outlet, toyed with several ideas for their new venture, including setting up a take away joint, which would fetch them quick money keeping in mind the number of offices in the area. They, however, found the idea of a fine dining restaurant, where people can sit back and enjoy their lunch break in a highly stylized setting, most appealing and appropriate.
The name Tato’s has been carved in the minds of people as a place famous for its bhaajis and vegetarian food. However the brothers are looking to break away from this stereotype and are out to create a name for themselves in the non-vegetarian food section as well. They have taken the initial steps with their Tato’s Fine Dining which has indeed been a roaring success if one goes by the number of people who swear by their rice-curry-fish plate. A new restaurant, which is set to open in Margao in December, will also serve non-vegetarian food.
With a large and still growing base of loyal customers spread across the length and breadth of the state and a well-planned growth strategy firmly in place, all else apart, the Dhuri brothers, with their perfect blend of traditional Goan snacks and contemporary Indian delicacies, are here for the long run