Initially the invite for expression of interest to run the Eco Island at Rajarhat in the eastern fringes of the city found no takers among some of the best-known star hotel properties. And three years down the road, the state government, through West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (WBHIDCO) has not only built a successful brand around this but is now well set to take this brand to the next level. On offer at the seven acre island on the huge lake of Eco Park are a glass house banquet, a houseboat restaurant and an open air café and also lake-facing cottages with 22 rooms, under ‘Café Ekante’ and ‘Ekante Cottage’ respectively. Interestingly, the idea of setting up a set of beautiful lake-facing cottages in the seven-acre island on the huge lake of Eco Park was the brainchild of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
If statistics is anything to go by, there has been a 123 per cent year-on year growth in number of footfalls at Café Ekante (36,000 in first year, 57,000 in second year and 89,000 in third year). Regarding room occupancy, the growth has been 110 per cent year-on-year. Financially, it has been achieving comfortable operating profits from the second year, said Debashis Sen, CMD, WBHIDCO and additional chief secretary.
Now “Café Ekante” has set out on its next journey - spreading its wings. But the brand certainly has a different game plan. “We are yet to firm up plans to roll out a chain of restaurant in the common sense of the term. Our outlook is to add value quickly on Hidco’s own properties instead of allowing private players make money on these properties. Thus Nazrul Tirtha, owned by Hidco and running three movie halls, has come up with food counters operated by Café Ekante that serves multiplex menus. Café Ekante also caters to the unique New Town Business Club very successfully. The iconic Kolkata Gate with its ring-like hanging restaurant at a height of 25 metres – as high as a six storied building – will also be operated by Café Ekante. Street cafes at Bus terminuses, Car Parking, Boat Jetties in New Town and Chinar Park are also being served by Café Ekante Express,” said Sen.
If statistics is anything to go by, Café Ekante has witnessed 123 per cent year-on year growth in number of footfalls (36,000 in first year, 57,000 in second year and 89,000 in third year). Room occupancy at Ekante Cottage has grown at 110 per cent year-on-year.
Financially, it has been achieving comfortable operating profits from the second year itself. And this in turn has given the state government the courage to expand further.
“Although the original idea was to position Café Ekante as a fine dining restaurant in its own right, where people would come in to savour forgotten Bangla recipe in a KFC/ McDonald kind of air-conditioned glass-fronted setting, now we want to have two formats: (a) fine food for Café Ekante and (b) quality stand-in coffee cum snack bar for Café Ekante Express. We are even developing a model for including daily need items like magazines, mobile top-up, flowers etc for few ‘Café Ekante Express’,” said Sen.
Hidco has just come up with a unique ‘Misti Hub’,a ‘shop-in-shop’, comprising eleven units of branded sweet shops of Bengal. Hidco has provided the ambience, the envelope and created a story around sweets of Bengal.
“The idea originated from the fact that quite often business visitors and others departing Kolkata look for Bengal’s famous Rasagolla, Misti Doi or Nolen Gurer Sandesh as carry-on gifts or for their families after a trip to Kolkata. Gifts to State Guests also include these delicacies. Misti Hub allows one getting these in the freshest form to the destination, being on the way to the airport, just five minutes ahead. Somewhat like Biriyani shops on way to Hyderabad airport. Traditional great sweet shops of Kolkata are scattered all around and for the first time in the history of Bengal sweets, they have been brought together,” said Sen.
Besides, ten branded sweet shops, there is one counter for ethnic sweets from the districts in Misti Hub. The set up reminds one of the grand Zamindari Days of Bengal, days when Calcutta was the capital of British India, the story of sweets showcased in so exquisite a manner that it has to be experienced personally. Believe it or not, demands are already pouring in for including other sweet brands too.
Hidco is in the process of forming an association of the shops to take care of common facilities after some time. Hidco will have an official inspector to visit the premises from time to time to ensure hygiene, cleanliness and food-safe practices. A professional housekeeping agency has been engaged to keep the premises clean and sparkling.