Bengaluru's iconic ice cream parlour Corner House turns 40 this month, owner A Narayan Rao talks about how it all started
During times when business is all a number game, Narayan is content seeing different generations from the same family walking into his ice cream parlour to enjoy their ‘regular order’
Bengaluru girl Deepika Padukone once tweeted, “Hrithik Roshan in War is like Death By Chocolate (an ice cream flavor) from Corner House.... Just saying. (sic)” And we completely agree. The city’s favourite ice cream parlour, Corner House, which has been frequented by people from different walks of life like Rahul Dravid, Mahesh Bhupathi and Nandan Nilekani, turns 40 this month.
The journey for owner, A Narayan Rao, has been a ‘sweet one’. During times when business is all a number game, Narayan is content seeing different generations from the same family walking into his ice cream parlour to enjoy their ‘regular order’. Speaking to CE at his Indiranagar office, Narayan says, “Sometimes, I sit in this office on the first floor and just people-watch. There are a few boys who come on their rundown Vespa to share a scoop of ice cream, while on the other hand, there are youngsters who stop by in fancy cars,” says Narayan, who has never considered opening a franchise outside of Bengaluru.
Started in 1982 as a food joint below Nagarjuna Restaurant on Residency Road, Narayan recalls he got the place for R2,250 with an advance of R33,750. “I managed the rent amount, but the advance was too much. So a friend of mine from college generously signed a draft and asked me to go ahead. ‘Don’t miss this opportunity,’ he had said. I am always grateful to him for that,” says Narayan, who passed out of University of Agricultural Sciences, before getting into the F&B business.
Turning the food joint of a decade then into an exclusive ice cream parlour was a calculative risk for Narayan. “There was suddenly a lot of competition in the food business at that point. So I thought why compete when you can fight your own battle. It’s also a common perception that one would like to have dessert in a different place to try out more variety, so these new food joints could actually help us increase our customer base. And that’s exactly what happened,” explains Narayan, adding that they went exclusively into the ice cream business in 1995.
Coming from a family with an Army background where he had to travel various places, he chose to settle down in Bengaluru, owing to its ‘tolerant’ nature. “Bengalureans love chocolate. One of our crowd favourites is the Hot Chocolate Fudge. It is partly due to the influence of the British as well as because people here are well-travelled,” says Narayan, who still collects letters of appreciation from people.
According to him, one of the main secrets of the business is consistency. But having changed various bakers for the supply of their cakes, the taste surely varies. “That’s why you need to have one ingredient which is strong and for us, it is our chocolate sauce. That masks everything. I still personally supervise its making,” says Narayan.
As they turn 40, Narayan is gearing up for a new adventure with the next-gen entering the business. His son Dhananjay Rao (33), is currently co-running a bakery and is the main supplier of cakes for the franchise. Considering the changing preferences of people, they have now introduced a vegan range. “Customers’ tastes and preferences are constantly changing. It is something that we have been working on for a while. It is challenging because you don’t want to mess with something that is working well either. We are just trying to cater to the growing vegan market,” says Dhananjay, adding that it is currently available at only the Indiranagar branch, since they wanted to take it slow.