It was Good Friday evening. After a particularly hard work week, a small group of us decided to indulge in a boozier-than-normal dinner at Cafe Zoe in Todi Mills. Over Melba toasts topped with salmon tartare and green-apple rock martinis, the conversation turned to the Betty Boop-looking doodle that was part of the cafe’s logo. “I mean who is this Zoe anyway?” our tipsy-by-then architect friend asked, suddenly distraught. “Is it the owner chick that’s always pottering about, you know, the one that looks like a yoga instructor?” The rest of us didn’t think so and after a few minutes of mindless, I-spy-Zoe with the crowd, our pondering moved from the illustration to the name – would it in fact have made a difference if the owner was a Zoe?
Probably not. Gone are the days when eateries were named more simply, usually after one of two things: their owners (Mani’s Lunch Home, Shree Thakker’s Bhojanalay, Ling’s Pavilion) or the cuisine they served (Cafe Madras, China Garden, Peshawari, Highway Gomantak). As the city’s dining scene has grown to include more bars, pubs and restaurants serving all sorts of cuisines, each with a tab higher than the next, food and drink isn’t the only reason to go out to dinner. They’re only part of a package that includes decor and ambience, and the names of new restaurants reflect this shift – because diners make judgment calls even before they step into a place, let alone sample the food.
Take Cafe Zoe for instance. Like most restaurant owners, Tarini Mohindar, Jeremie Horowitz and Chef Viraf Patel spent countless, mind-numbing hours browsing baby-name books for inspiration. They wanted a name that was unpretentious and casual like the space they’d created. “We decided that it would be a European girl’s name to reflect the food we served and Zoe is short, cute and memorable, like a fun friend,” said Mohindar. When the cafe expands to include other branches, each will have a different girl’s name. Adding the cafe tag was the informative part. It communicated that the place was open all day and not too pricey or formal.
Naming a restaurant after the head of the kitchen is still popular but pretty much anything can inspire a name: ingredients like olive, wasabi and tamarind; portmanteaus like Mango (Mangalore and Goa), Sveda (swaad and veda); foreign words like tetsuma (tornado in Japanese) and shiro (castle); colours like indigo and even word-play with Santa Cruz’s Wai Yu Mun Ching and Mickey Mao’s or Bloody Meri in Malad. We have bars names after dreamy locations like Bora Bora in Juhu. Only a few minutes away from Bora Bora, you can have a three-course Chinese meal at Balthazar (one of the three wise men that brought Myrrh to baby Jesus) and you’re only a few more minutes away from Three Wise Men, the new bar in Santa Cruz. At least the Three Wise Men has a shooter made from Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker and Jim Beam.
Bars have the most fun with their names. Kishore D Fernandes’s WTF! in Khar managed to capture the interest of an entire suburb with just three letters. The name was a great conversation starter but it could have gone horribly wrong if it wasn’t backed up by the kitschy, Chor Bazaar-inspired decor with its Singer sewing machine tables, Rajnikanth posters and fans painted with Batman and other super heroes. “A name should be depictive, that’s the most important thing,” said Fernandes. “I wanted the name to be like a slap in the face and I think this works. When you hear WTF! you know it’s going be a fun, slightly crackpot place.”
To help conceptualise the name, Fernandes called in the experts: Vinayak Upadhyay and Chandan Mahimkar from branding and communications firm Law and Kenneth. The duo didn’t just come up with the name but created a whole identity for the brand, which becomes essential when you’re looking to set up numerous outlets in a short span of time. “When you have an owner as involved as Kishore, it’s important that the place matches both his attitude and the customer’s sensibilities,” said Upadhyay. A great name should ring true every minute you spend at a restaurant, he said, regardless of whether you’re eating, drinking or taking a piss, which would explain the graffiti in the loos. Upadhyay and Mahimkar’s involvement with WTF! didn’t end with the name. A few weeks ago they projected the bar’s Facebook page on the wall so when punters in the bar commented on the page, it showed up on the actual wall.
Not all restaurants invest so much in creating a brand. Pinky Dixit, owner of Soam in Babulnath, gave herself a month to think of a name, and then was almost convinced she’d chosen the wrong one. “During the first few weeks, people would walk in, see tables and ask us if we sold furniture,” she remembers. “My manager kept pestering me to put up a board outside that said Pure Veg but I said no need. They’ll ask once, twice, thrice and then they’ll know that we serve food.” Soam is short for somvar or Monday, which is the auspicious day to attend the Babulnath temple opposite the restaurant. It was one of three names that Dixit had shortlisted. The reason Dixit believes Soam is doing so well is because the name is numerologically lucky. (And we thought it was the dhokli and chaat.)
Experts and restaurateurs say that a good restaurant name should stand for something: an idea, an attitude, the decor, food or even the person who runs the place. TV Narayan, head of Survival by Design, a company that works on strategic creativity on projects that range from children’s books to serious corporate identity, believes it’s all about tone, style and the feeling you want the diner to walk away with. Narayan helped create Seijo and the Soul Dish, Bandra’s legendary restaurant and lounge. “Every restaurant has a story and is selling an experience,” Narayan said. “The trick is to stay true to that experience but at the same time, set the place apart in a cluttered market.” Ellipsis, Colaba’s newest fine-dining restaurant, seems to be taking the name game to another level: they don’t have one. The large, white board outside the gorgeous-looking restaurant that replaced Villa 39 has only three dots. When there isn’t a pen and paper handy, the restaurant also goes by the name Ellipsis. What’s the big idea? Rohan Talwar, one of the owners, explained that the name was meant to denote “that there’s more to come, and that the whole experience is more than meets the eye”.
By Neha Sumitran on April 27 2012 4.30am
Photos by Amit Chakravarty