Zooming towards Montieth Road in the suburbs of Egmore, Chennai, I arrive at Alsa Mall. A cubicle of six sandwich stalls is stacked like dominoes close to each other outside the famous shopping complex.
The culture of sandwich stalls outside Alsa Mall began in 1994. “We were the first to open over here. Back then, there were only two stalls. Now the number has risen to six”, says Suresh of the pioneer, Balaji Sandwich Stall, which stands here for 26 years. Their signature dish is bread omelette became an instant hit among the masses when it was first introduced here.
The stalls are open from 9 in the morning to late in the night at 11.30. Many regulars over here grab a sandwich for breakfast. Customers are attracted and stop for a quick bite even during late hours in the night.
“The basic provision each stall uses per day is 300 eggs and 30 loaves of bread”, says Rangathan, of Chinnathambi Sandwich Stall, a resident of Adambakkam, “All the shops together at least receive 700 customers every day”. Water packets are provided for the customers on a complimentary basis after the meal. Apart from this, they also cater to bulk orders for events such as birthday parties.
Positive word of mouth and the recent coverage by the social media has helped them garner many patrons. Foodies track down this place and visit here to satisfy their taste buds,
One can customize the sandwich based on a plethora of options such as toast, paneer, chicken, double egg, cheese, and mayonnaise. Brown bread variants are also available for those on diet. Though many variants come, the signature bread omelette is preferred by most.
Like the sandwiches, the customers too differ in their walks of life. The range of customers includes school kids, youngsters, colleagues, elders and couples.
“Foreign tourists who visit the nearby Egmore museum consider it mandatory to visit our stall due to our legacy. One of them even shot a review and posted it on his vlog”, says Suresh proudly. Many celebrities are also known to have visited this place. Kollywood actors Dhansika and Kalaiarasan are the recent celeb customers whom he can recall.
The USP of these sandwich stalls is the green chutney and the subsidized rates. “You won’t get the taste of this chutney anywhere else”, says Mr. Suresh “That is what differentiates us from the other sandwich stalls in Chennai”. The prices over here are pocket-friendly. A sumptuous meal for two will cost not more than 100 rupees.
It is also interesting to note that these sandwich stalls draw more crowd than Alsa Mall itself. The weekends are considered best time for business by the stall owners. “The students from the nearby institutions such as Ethiraj College, WCC and Don Bosco School frequent this joint and use it to organize ‘treats’ for their friends”, laughs Suresh.
“I’m a regular customer since my childhood. Now I visit this joint every day after my coaching classes”, says Fazil a 12th grader from Asan Memorial School, “I come here as it doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. The atmosphere here is ideal for chit-chat with my friends. In fact, I have a friend who comes from as far as Vandalur to eat over here”.
The recently introduced GST tax has hit a toll on their business too. “The rate of cheese has drastically increased.”, says Ranganathan. Suresh, on the other hand, points out that business was dull during the introduction GST, the last time it happened was during the demonetization period.
After our interaction, a group of friends rush past and order “Anna rendu bread omelette”. I too get tempted by them and go on to order one.
Author – Adrian David