The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is very apt when it comes to Reboti Chat House. From the outside, all you see is an ordinary vintage looking wooden structure and a big banner on top of the front door featuring the name of the eatery. Once you enter the eatery, there is an open kitchen on your right (think old-school stove and shelves and not some fancy modular kitchen) where the head chef is constantly frying something or the other, and on your left are some unassuming wooden benches where you can sit and eat. For someone who has never eaten at Reboti before, or doesn’t know about its history, may not have the best first impression of the place but when the food arrives (the service is impeccably fast), all doubts start to vanish at the first bite. That is the charm of Reboti Chat House.
The eatery was started by Narayan Chandra Bora on 4th September 1987. He used to work for reputed medical distributors but his 9-5 job was not paying him enough to run the family. For his job, he used to travel to different areas in the city. During one of these trips, he realized that one particular Chat House in Pan Bazaar was doing really well and that inspired him to start one of his own. ‘I had wanted to do something on my own and this seemed like the perfect idea. I also knew that I won’t need too much investment.’
Those who don’t know the history of the eatery will be surprised to learn that when it started, Reboti Chat House wasn’t a building with four walls. It was a four wheeled cart. ‘I bought wood planks and used a knife to smoothen the edges out. I then got a carpenter to put the final touches on the cart and that is how I started.’ He started with a staff of 3 and the first day he made Rs 75 in sales. With time, he made the decision to clean out the area where the eatery is now located and build a bigger space for customers.
‘Sales would keep going up and down. One day the sale may go up and I would decide to buy and make more food the next day but then enough customers don’t come and the food would go to waste. I continued with this system for some time and accumulated Rs 12000 debt at the grocers.’ It was becoming harder and harder for Narayan Chandra Bora to keep his eatery afloat. ‘I kept thinking about how I will pay off the loan. I had left my job and there were no other avenues where money was coming in. I did feel dejected for a while about the business not doing well but eventually I realized that failure was not an option.’
He reached out to the head of his earlier company and his boss lent him Rs 5000. He started to make better decisions, like buying ingredients from wholesale shops and only preparing a certain amount of food every day. ‘I was okay with one or two customers going back empty handed than having to throw away food at the end of the day. I would only increase the quantity of food prepared when I noticed a rise in customers for an entire week or so.’
The initial years were very challenging. ‘Slowly it became better and the establishment grew in reputation. My staff became bigger and more customers started coming every day. This venture has helped me educate my three children, and overall things have been good so far.’ Owning an eatery like Reboti Chat House has a lot of other challenges as well. ‘There have been cases when young kids eat and run away without paying. In the past, the municipality had taken my cart away multiple times. I then had to go request them to release it. When Himanta Biswa Sarma was in college, he had helped me once to bring back the cart after it was seized. The journey till now has not been without struggle but I met with every challenge in the past and will continue to do so since my customers want Reboti to stay.’
Reboti Chat House has a big fan following in the city. Even those who have moved out of the city come to Reboti when they visit home. ‘Just the other day, a man came up to me and said that he is an old customer, and that he loves the food here. He currently stays in USA but every time he comes home, he makes a point to come to Reboti. There are a lot of other customers who have always helped me out when I was in a tight situation and that helps me stay motivated.’
Reboti Chat House is open from 11 am to 8:30 pm, but if you don’t want to wait for a seat then you may want to give the rush hours a miss. The eatery is always busy during 2 pm to 3:30 pm, and from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. Some of the popular items are chicken chow, Reboti mix chow, chicken roll and egg roll. Next time, you are in the area, do grab a half plate of chow or pack some rolls to take home with you.
By Meeta Borah
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast April 2018 issue.