Zyros Zend pulls down a sheaf of Commando comics from a shelf. “Now let me see, it is in one of these issues. Aha! Here it is,” he triumphantly tells me. There, I see the illustration of a

Greek in a World War 2 setting. “If you notice, his name is Zyros and that is where my name comes from. My dad is crazy about Commandos,” he says.

We are sitting in Yazdani Bakery on a typically busy afternoon in Mumbai’s Fort area. Zyros is part of the family tree which started this place way back in the late-1940s. The regulars troop in for their bun maskas and chai (buttered bun and tea). And if you are in the mood for something more, there is always the mushroom puff or apple pie.

Yazdani is one of the city’s iconic Irani hangouts which attract all kinds of people. “You have the fancy guys in their ties and suits along with the regular crowd. This is a place which is open to all people. Everyone gets the same treatment,” Zyros says.

As you enter Yazdani, there is an incredible feeling of an era gone by. There are posters from the late ‘50s and ‘60s of bodybuilders and wrestlers. Behind the cash counter, where Zyros is seated, are laminated signs with interesting messages, one of which reads, ‘Life isn’t about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rains.’ Yazdani is really a place with a soul.

As my colleague, Paul, clicks away pictures of the interiors, Zyros is busy attending to his customers. Some are here to pick up bread and cakes while the others come in for their tea and bun maska. The place is charged as Zyros gets his staff moving. He constantly slams the table bell (you don’t see too many of them these days) to check out the order. “That will be Rs 50. Please give exact change,” he adds dramatically while the customer smiles good-naturedly.

These are people who have been coming to Yazdani for decades and literally adore Zyros and his crew. Having read stuff about the rapidly vanishing legacy of Irani restaurants, I gingerly ask him if he enjoys his work. “Where else would I find so many kinds of people every day? And I ensure there is no preferential treatment for the rich and snooty types who hand me a 500 rupee note. I demand that they cough up the right change,” he says while a wide grin breaks out on his face.

Despite this down-to-earth attitude which is the core of Yazdani’s rapport with its customers, you also learn that its different loaf-breads (whole wheat, seven grain, olive etc) make their way into the city’s top 5-star hotels. As far as Zyros is concerned, this is hardly anything to crow about since every customer is the same in his eyes.

It is also perhaps one of the few places in Mumbai which sells ginger biscuits (‘fiery’ is how they are described on the board placed outside). It is funny but nobody really makes them anymore and you wonder if kids today are missing out on something which was so special to our generation.

Zyros softens a bit when he talks about his father. “He is due anytime now. Man, he is really something else,” he tells me. Suddenly, I see an old man getting off a cab and assisted to the cashier’s table. This is the 75-year-old Zend M Zend who is still going strong. They don’t make people like him anymore. It is this never-say-die spirit that comes through the Yazdani fabric.

murali.gopalan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 5, 2012)
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