Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vekees and Thomas - a Food Chain with Novelty

Sometime back I had written about my fondness for continental food and how it leads me to try out new Euro food joints. Some three months ago, a new Euro restaurant came up in my office area, Veekes and Thomas. The restaurant has a very bare-bone setup occupying a small space with two tables and some cane-chairs around them. It is fronted by strips of white curtains made of cane. There are only two to three people on the staff, two manning the kitchen and one doubling up as cashier and waiter.

But funnily, instead of putting you off, the austere setting actually lends the place the look and feel of an authentic low-cost European food shop. My first visit was a disappointment. I had ordered for a veg sandwich and received one with the stuffing of an egg (!) and finely chopped deep fried onions. The stuffing kept drooping out on the plate as I bit my way through the poor thing. I wanted to scream but held back.

Last week I visited them for French Onion soup priced at Rs. 30 and was happy with what I got. It wasn’t anything to drool over, just a concoction of a thick sauce, some finely sliced onions and black pepper. But the taste was good. And guess how they served it: In a road-side tea glass. I asked for a bowl, and the cashier, now acting as waiter, returned from the kitchen with a mini bowl, but by then I had made peace with the glass.

You may get a little irritated by all this ordinarily, but at Veekes and Thomas, you have to read their mission statement - here two wooden frames adorning the wall next to me framed it - to put it all in perspective. Veekes and Thomas is a chain of food joints built around the idea of village economy and inclusive growth. Their mission statement suggests that they source their vegetables from village cooperatives to keep profiteering middlemen out and increase the profit margin of farmers.

They recruit their staff from NGOs. In the long run, they plan to open street side food counters and over time transfer their ownership to the workers. They also additionally incentivize their workers based on their work (which I don’t think other restaurants do; workers may earn additional revenue through tips but nothing comes from the management). They are allergic to using plastic (this found couple of mentions in the statement). Even when it doesn’t concern packing food for customers, they follow “green” methods: “If you find an exotic dish served on a leaf plate, don’t be surprised,” warned the statement.

I don’t know how many of the lofty ideas translate into actions, but the idea of helping the society and village economy through a food-business model sounded impressive and the methods felt practicable.

Nowadays in India the middle class, especially the IT types, are coming under heavy attack by left-style intellectuals who claim that the middle class, high on its new-found prosperity, has become insensitive to the suffering of the poor. Most don’t pay attention to the allegation. But allegation or otherwise, if you are someone with a social conscience (or similar pretension), you will feel nice by patronizing Veekes and Thomas.

As for the food, I also tried out the Cream of Mushroom soup, served in a glass. I liked it. And paid only Rs. 35.

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