One hundred and two years ago, February 18 to be precise, Goans got a whiff of the delicious aroma of bhaji puri from a restaurant called Café Bhonsle. The tradition of serving breakfast with a smile is being carried forward now by Milind Bhonsle and his brother Vijay Kumar Bhonsle.
“We grow by making those working with us grow, and that is why we are where we are today,” is how Milind Bhonsle sums up their business trajectory.
Born in a business family, Milind grew up with working hard as his pathway to success. “My brother and I started helping my father when we were seven. We used to work on alternate days then, and I had to join business full time when I was seventeen as my father passed away when he was 49,” recollects Milind.
“How to take the business forward was the biggest worry at that time,” adds Milind.
“There is no alternative to education. Had I studied more, I would have been able to create more dishes with the flavours of Goa. Maybe our presentation would have been better, though the taste is most important. But, honestly, more education would have enabled us to place this business on a different platter,” thinks Milind, as his mind jogs through his school days.
“People who were working with my father supported us right through, and they have been the backbone on which we have been resting. Our staff in the past used to work as though this was their business. It was their passion that added taste to our food. Times have changed,” opines Milind, as he alternates between the past and the present.
At 50, Milind has a happy smile writ upon his face. “I missed playing football and cricket with my friends when I was small. I remember the days my friends used to call me to play, and I could not go as I had to go to work. If anything, I miss playing during my childhood,” Milind says nonchalantly.
“Mine was a love marriage. I used to make time to go out on dates but never neglected work,” shoots Milind when asked whether he had to skip romance.
Café Bhonsle has expanded from a café in Panjim with two coffee shops – one in Ponda and the other in Porvorim – and a bar and restaurant in Panaji. “We are not thinking of expanding anymore because we intend on maintaining the standard of the food. We have maintained the same quality,” assures Milind.
“We have grown by helping our own staff grow. We do not scout for new staff but prefer to train our own.That is why our helpers today end up helping in the kitchen in the future. Otherwise, it would not have been possible to maintain our quality. Two of our staffers who were with us for fifty years retired recently,” discloses Milind.
“We are still grounded,” he smilingly admits.
“I do not know whether I should call myself religious or not. All I can tell you is that I pray in the morning and pray before going to bed. In between, I do not remember God. But, God is my guide,” professes Milind.
“I have met numerous people through my business, which I think is a blessing because people give a different energy, and I am grateful to my father for this energy. I was recently in London and was taken aback by the response of the staff at the airport. Everyone kept greeting me as Milind of Bhonsle, and I tell you that feeling was magical,” says Milind.
“People have been coming to us because of our quality,” he stresses.
“Goans have an attachment to others. I have not found that feeling during my visits abroad. We, Indians, go out of our way to help others, but abroad one has to fend for himself,” thinks Milind.
“One sees the culture and natural beauty in Europe, but it is missing in America,” is his perception of the West.
Milind Bhonsle’s popularity has seen his name emerge as a front-runner for a place in the hotbed of politics during the last elections to the Goa Legislative Assembly.
“I have had my eye on politics since I was young and was offered a ticket during the last elections. However, after thinking and consulting my brother, I realised that it was not fair to waste my hard-earned money. I thought it would be unfair and foolish, and decided against it,” explained Milind.
“I want to work for another eight years and then retire and enjoy life. It will be up to the younger generation to take the business forward,” confesses Milind, who believes there are no shortcuts to getting ahead in life. Only hard work will take you forward.