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Nirula’s — Dates to birthday parties, Delhi’s favourite restaurant is a place of many ‘firsts’

From burgers to a whopping 21 flavours of ice creams, Nirula’s was the first to the wonders of American fast food. But, with the entry of MNCs McDonald’s and KFC, its shine began to dim.

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New Delhi: Delhi just lost the architect of its favourite modern-day monument. 

It’s not a surprise Deepak Nirula’s death feels like a personal loss to an average Delhi resident. And the same is evident in the outpouring of grief on social media following his demise.

Why wouldn’t it be? After all, the ‘ice cream man of India’ was the first to introduce the capital to fast foods like burgers, pizzas, and of course, a variety of ice creams. 

“I don’t know whether it was extra special or was it that it was a rare treat but nothing ever came close to the Nirula’s Sundae in taste or the joy felt! RIP!” wrote Mythili, a researcher. 

To Gen Z, Nirula’s might seem like just another forgettable fast food chain brand but any old Delhi resident will tell you how inextricably Nirula’s story is woven into Delhi’s modern history. 

It was nothing short of a temple for youth in the 90s, a place of many firsts. 


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The place of many firsts

Nirula’s was a different world altogether. The sheer variety of ice creams, its cuisines, and ambiance… it was all very different, very new. It was way ahead of its times, a prescient place where the future was now. 

And so the first trip to Nirula’s is a cherished memory, still fresh in the minds of Delhi’s 40- and 50- somethings. For Preksha Khanna, a Delhi-based designer, Nirula’s was the first midnight outing, for teacher Daisy Rodriguez,  it was the best reward after scoring well on an exam, for Yugal Kumar, an advertising professional, it was where he took his current wife out on a first date. 

“Nirula’s was a fifteen-minute walk from our school, but we couldn’t go there because we survived on pocket money which wasn’t enough. One day a friend threw a birthday party there,” reminisces entrepreneur Sanjeev Bikhchandani, “It was where I had pizza and ice cream soda for the first time in my life, and I was hooked.”

At Dipak Nirula’s death, many nostalgic tidbits were shared on social media from ‘the simpler times’ when the Maruti 800 was the car to have and Nirula’s was the place to be.

 

Nirula’s history 

Deepak Nirula knew India’s gluttony extremely well. Back in 1977, he introduced India to the irresistible world of fast food. 

Nirula was born on 3 April 1952 and pursued a Bachelor in Hotel Management from Cornell University in 1974. 

But Nirula’s is much older, a family-owned brand known to be experimental or risky, introducing Delhi to the delights of the world. 

Nirula’s was started by brothers Lakshmi Chand and Madan Gopal as a ‘Hotel India’ in 1934. It reportedly had 12 rooms, a restaurant, and bar. 

The two brothers opened Nirula’s Corner House in 1942, which was a spectacular diner. It had bands playing, cabaret and magic shows, and flamenco dancers. It soon became Delhi’s hottest restaurant to visit. 

By the 1950s, the Nirula’s had three successful restaurants in Connaught Place —  La Boheme, an Austro-Hungarian restaurant, Gufa, an Indian diner, and ‘Chinese Room’, the first restaurant offering Chinese cuisine in Delhi. 

In 1977, US-educated brothers Deepak and Lalit Nirula opened fast food chain ‘Nirula’s’, which introduced Indians to the wonders of American fast food. It had an ice cream parlour, a pastry shop, a snack bar and a hot shoppe. 

The best part? The outlet had a whopping 21 flavours of ice cream, and Delhi couldn’t hold its excitement. They flocked here for dates and hangouts, with family and friends, for celebrations big and small. 

Nirula’s ruled as Delhi’s premier fast food chain brand until multinational companies like McDonald’s and KFC forayed into India.

As multinational chains waded into India’s waters, Nirula’s with its 60 outlets, including 2 in Kathmandu, had a first-mover’s advantage. But in front of deep pockets, their novelty gave away. 

The brand went on to open 70 chains across the country but soon lost its sheen. No longer were kids reporting to Nirula’s dutifully with report cards after the 2000s. 

Even though alive and functional, the brand became a relic in the city of Delhi, visited by parents who desperately wanted to introduce their children to a part of their own childhood. 

“Nirula’s became very mediocre, very quickly. Except maybe their hot chocolate fudge and pork chops, nothing is worth spending money on,” said a PR professional who didn’t wish to be named. 

In 2006, Lalit and Deepak sold the brand to Navis Capital Partners, which in turn sold it off to A2Z excursions in 2012. 


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