If you are a Parsi, then the words RTI shouldn't be Greek and Latin to you. But for the uninitiated, RTI stands for Ratan Tata Industrial institute; the once-upon-a-time ultimate stop for Parsi cuisine, sweets, delicacies as also mouth-watering cakes and pastries. It started out from inside a building at Hughes Road - before it moved to a new location, just opposite to its original location, into a much swankier place - and branched out to about six other places in Bombay. From my personal observation and one of its loyal customers for ages, what was once a thriving institution is now half its original glory.
I have many pleasant memories of RTI. In the olden days - gosh, I sound like an old Bawaji - we used to refer RTI as Industrial. I think it was because it was situated in an old building outside Khareghat Colony where if you'd step inside that building, it kind of resembled an industrial unit. Which actually, in a way, it was. I do not know RTI's history, but from whatever little on it I have come across on the Internet, it was started as an unit to make widowed Parsi womenindependent by providing them employment and making them self-sufficient. Hence, if I am not mistaken, most of the staff at RTI originally - and maybe it still is this way - are Parsees. RTI has never been just a store. It was a movement of sorts and has become an institution in its own right over the years.
Every week, as a kid, I used to look forward to eating their famous chocolate cake over my evening tea on my weekends. My earliest memory of this fantastic cake takes me back to a timewhen it used to cost Rs 8. Today I think the price has gone up three times; I no longer eat this cake so I wouldn't know exactly. I also used to look forward to my evening tea, mostly because of the stuff I used to have with my tea such as the yummy shrewsberry biscuits that, in those days,Moti mummy used to get for me from her Poona trips, or RTI's chocolate pastries. As a child I loved chocolate cakes and I still do. Even today I do not miss an opportunity to feast on pastries and desserts. In my office, people say there is a rule: If you are ordering desserts, make sure you ask Kayezad too what he wants!!!
There were other things that we regularly used to buy from RTI such as its chicken patties and cutlets. They are not the healthiest of the stuff to be had, but when you're 10, you do not think about all those things. Anyway, I have patronised RTI over many years. I do not much now, though occasionally I still go there. RTI could do much better and ought to become more aggressive and give its competitors a run for their money. I really wish the house of Tatas should take steps to rebuild this flagging enterprise.
RTI has lots of potential. There is a huge demand for Parsi cuisine and delicacies from not onlyParsis - we anyway have Parsi cuisine day in & out - but more so from non-Parsis who enjoythier food. And God bless them, there are plenty of those in Bombay! Infact, the owner of theDadar-based franchise of Monginis - a famous chain of confectioneries - had once told me whenIwas working on a franchise story for my magazine that if there's one chain that could give tough competition to Monginis, it would be RTI. I had never felt prouder about RTI than that moment. Sadly, RTI's potential is grossly underutilised.
I am not sure what the problem at RTI is. Though I think it could be lack of funds. It is still a charitable organisation and employs women and young parsi girls, both from Bombay and outside Bombay, and train to be self-sufficient. It could be because of the lack of adequate staff that their scale of operations have dwindled over the years. The main-course dishes available out there is in limited quantity. Food prepared is often sold out within three to four hours in the morning, though some of it is also due to demand. I wish enough quantity is prepared so that stocks across items and variety last atleast till about 3-4 pm. The shop has done well to extend the timings though; I quite liked that initiative. It has also added a tea/coffee machine and has put extra furniture (sofas and tables) for people to sit there and have food. This is a good initiative and bodes well for patrons on the go wanting to catch a quick bite there. The pastries and confectioneries are good, some main dishes though are quite so-so. They have increased the prices over the years to combat rising prices - but dishes available here are still very modestly priced as compared to others. Having said that, I don't find the quality to be like what it once used to be, in the good-old days.
Overall, the quality should also improve a bit. The main course dishes have a lot of scope for improvement. I also wish they would recruit more people. You don't see those grand old -and may I say most-efficient -ladies there anymore the way you used to in days when I was kid. Today, the staff is handful there and often you have to wait for more than 15 minutes to be attended to. I would understand if salaries are a problem since RTI doesn't seem to be a commercially intensive place. The place is just about half its glory since it was during my childhood days. I wish RTI would regain its past glory and become a compulsive destination for food lovers. Will the house of Tatas do something to revive the sagging institution please?