Guwahati is a food lover’s paradise, no matter what you want to eat and how little cash you may have in your pocket; you are bound to find an eatery where you can satisfy your cravings. One such unassuming restaurant that has been serving quality food to locals for the last 36 years is the Sunflower Restaurant. Located in the Pan Bazaar area, it has a special place in the hearts of local foodies for its unchanging charm.
It was started in 1981 by two brothers, Firoz Ahmed and Alfarid Ahmed. ‘This house had been in my family for years, and so we thought that instead of letting it out, we could start a restaurant,’ said Firoz. At that time, there were not many restaurants in the area and they thought that it would be a great venture. While a lot of the other establishments closed down and faded from the memory of the locals, Sunflower is still going strong.
Even though the restaurant is located very close to Cotton College, Firoz reveals that most of their clientele consists of families instead of college students. ‘We do get students but I have always had more families coming in from the time we started. Even now, our customer base is mostly families. Some of my customers were single when they first ate here but then they got married and now they come here with their kids. They tell me that their kids insist on eating at my restaurant.’ Sunflower also attracts customers who live outside the State. ‘I have customers who used to study in Cotton College but are now based outside in metros like Delhi. They make it a point to come eat here whenever they are in Guwahati. It is a real delight talking to them as they tell me where they used to sit in the olden days and what they used to order.’ In addition to that, they even get regular customers all the way from Kolkata. ‘I have a lot of Bengali customers. So when people from Kolkata come to Guwahati, they come with recommendations to eat at my restaurant.’
One of the most interesting things about the Sunflower is that their menu hasn’t changed in the last 36 years. ‘When we started, we did a little research about what other restaurants were serving and we put together a menu which consisted of well-loved items which is still running till date. All the items on the menu are still very popular among our customers which is why we haven’t felt the need to add new items.’ Some of their most popular items include chilly chicken, soup, cutlet, mughlai paratha, chowmein and biryani. ‘College kids are particularly fond of the chowmein because they can order one plate and share between two or three. The youngsters have less money to spend so they prefer to eat at places that offers good food at affordable rates.’
The management has always made a point to keep the prices low so that anyone can come in and enjoy quality food without needing to spend an excessive amount of money. ‘I don’t believe in cheating people and that is why I make sure that they are getting the most out of their money. I also don’t skimp on quantity.’ This is one of the reasons why, apart from their loyal clientele, they keep getting new customers who become regulars with time. The restaurant also ensures everything on your plate is fresh. ‘The chicken we buy today will not be sold tomorrow. We want our customers to have the best food experience when they walk in.’
Firoz feels that one of the reasons for the success of the restaurant is the dedicated staff. ‘The staff who is currently working in the restaurant has worked with me for the last 36 years. I trust them blindly. They are good at what they do and they ensure that there are no complaints from my customers. Truth be told, they would probably get better pay-checks if they were to work somewhere else but they choose to work here because they also have an attachment to the establishment. I do not nit-pick, I give them the freedom to run the place as they see fit. I also make sure that I give them all the facilities that is possible from my end. I know that even if I don’t or can’t come for extended periods of time, the restaurant will still continue to run and prosper.’
While many old restaurants in the city are facing the brutal end of competition, Sunflower Restaurant continues to stand strong. ‘You cannot please every customer who walks in the door, but 99 percent of the people who have eaten at the restaurant have told me personally that they liked the food we serve and that makes me very happy. I want people to go back with smiles on their faces. As a restaurant owner, nothing brings me more joy than customer satisfaction.’
They say that change is the only constant but maybe that doesn’t need to apply to all things. Sunflower Restaurant has, other than an occasional paint job, not changed much over the years. It has offered the same vintage interiors, same service with a smile and the same menu for the last 36 years and people seem to love it that way. About the future, Firoz shares that his children, a boy and a girl, who are still pursuing their studies may not carry the legacy of the restaurant forward as he wants them to follow their own dreams. But he reveals that someone from the family will always look after Sunflower and ensure that it continues to serve the people of Guwahati with quality food at affordable rates for many years to come.
By Meeta Borah
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast September 2017 issue