Coronavirus spread, steep rentals: Why many hangouts, eateries are dying in Delhi?


When the Full Circle Bookstore and Café Turtle announced it will bring the curtains down on a 20-year old iconic Khan Market landmark, many thought this was just a one-off. Well, it wasn’t.

Today, owners of many shops and restaurants in the Capital are saying that operating such outlets isn’t a viable business option any longer — thanks to the novel coronavirus and the long lockdown. They cite the new guidelines of reduced operating hours, ban on serving alcohol, no waiver in licence fees from the authorities and most importantly, steep rental charges, as the reasons driving this sense of doom.


At least 20 restaurants, popular outlets, shops, cafes and bookstores have either shut shop or are on the verge of closure if the on-going negotiations with the landlords over rent fail.

Whether it is Connaught Place, Khan Market, South Extension or Hauz Khas, owners are demanding waiver of rent during the lockdown and lowering of rent at least till March 2021, failing which their very survival will be under threat.

Priyanka Malhotra, director of Cafe Turtle, one of the restaurants to move out, told Mail Today that it was difficult to do business in Khan Market amid high rentals, cost overheads and salaries. “Mehar Chand Market in Lodhi Colony will be the new hub for both Full Circle bookstore as well as Cafe Turtle. With almost one-tenth of rental as compared to Khan Market, it’s a clear destination,” she said.

Apart from Cafe Turtle, other popular food joints that have made an exit from Khan Market include the 16-year-old Asian cuisine restaurant Sidewok and Smoke House Deli – which opened six years ago.

Industry sources say rentals in Connaught Place for a 3,000 square feet property are in the vicinity of Rs 6 lakh. In Khan Market, it is at least 1.5 times more.

“In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent fallout, we’ve made the difficult decision to close Smoke House Deli’s outpost in Khan Market. While we have been in constant negotiations with our landlords there and have also spent time assessing the outpost’s overall financial viability, ultimately a difficult but necessary decision was made keeping in mind the markets expensive real estate and other issues,” said Riyaaz Amlani, MD and CEO, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, which also owns Social, Mocha and Ishaara.


Rajneesh Malik, who launched Sidewok in 2006, said he didn’t have any other option but to take a heart-breaking decision. “It is not that the problem can’t be solved. It is just that the lobby of the landlords is not allowing redressal of tenants’ grievances,” says Malik.

The only business that the restaurant could do after it opened recently was home delivery and takeaways.

Restaurants in markets across Delhi were allowed to open after remaining closed for 75 days in the lockdown imposed to combat the novel coronavirus.

Sanjiv Mehra, president of Khan Market Traders Association, blamed some tenants for taking undue advantage of the situation. “They don’t want to pay the rent, as they don’t have the right intentions. There are only 5% to 10% people who can’t afford the rents amid the current situation, but the remaining 90% want to take advantage of the situation,” he said. There are around 150 outlets in Khan Market.

Though many outlets have shut shop, some are braving it out, but it isn’t easy. Paramjeet Singh, the owner of Artful Baker Cafe in Khan Market, said, “If we open with just 50 per cent capacity, we won’t be able to meet running costs. The 9 pm curfew means we shut down at 7-7:30 pm. If this continues we too will have to look at other options.”

At Connaught Place, which has around 280 big and small eateries and bars, the situation is no better.

“The tenants who have been here since decades – like Zen and United Coffee House -which either own the place or are paying old rents can manage.

But new retailers are the worst affected. Most of these new establishments are bars and pubs that have high rentals, high operating cost, huge staff and survive largely on liquor sales, which isn’t allowed as of now,” said Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders Association.

One of the franchise outlets of the popular sports bar Pebble Street, for instance, had to stop operations.

“We had to unfortunately close down in Connaught Place since the high rentals and business environment over the next six months were not looking good and it became an unsustainable venture. We will continue to serve our old patrons in the other two locations at New Friends Colony and Qutub Golf Course,” says Pebble Street director Ashish Ahuja.


Restaurateurs have urged Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to offer support to the industry in these trying times. They have demanded the restoration of input tax credit, low-interest finance and other measures as well.

The situation isn’t any different in Old Delhi’s street food hubs such as Paratha Wali Gali. While most of the shops on this street are yet to resume operations, those who have opened shop after the lockdown reported less than 5% footfall compared to February, before the lockdown kicked in.

“On a normal day, we used to host 300 to 350 guests. Now, we merely host 10 guests. In the last three to four days, the footfall at our shop is zero,” said Manish Sharma, owner of Babu Ram Parathe Wale. “The traders association will meet soon to decide the future course of action. It is not possible for us to do business here now,” he added.


Anurag Katriar, president of National Restaurant Association of India, says coronavirus is here to stay – which is bad news for the industry. “With economy in a slowdown and the risk of getting infected keeping people indoors, the restaurant business is hampered. The guidelines by the MHA and the local authorities won’t change until we bid adieu to this virus,” he said.

Pradeep Gupta, general secretary, Indian Commerce and Trade Association, believes that common ground has to be reached for resolving issues. “They should discuss with each other. But the association is trying its best to give the best discounts available to the concerned parties during these times,” he said.

Michelin-starred chef and Mail Today columnist Suvir Saran says the mantra for survival is to acquire a long-term perspective.

“The economy is in a flux and there is a clash of perspectives between restaurant owners and landlords. To survive, restaurateurs must think outside the box and have a long-term perspective of 12-14 months. Businessmen who just look at the immediate bottom line won’t survive this shakedown. You need to have staying power, good relationships with your landlords and empathy towards your staff to survive. If they don’t sack their skilled employees today, they won’t have to incur training costs when the infection goes away,” said Saran.

(With inputs from Sushant Mehra in New Delhi)

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