Around nine years ago, a restaurateur, Ranbir Kar, came back to Assam after trying his luck in Maharashtra's Mumbai, with a dream to run his own food joints in Guwahati. He managed to open five such joints which soon became popular among foodies but the coronavirus pandemic meant that his dream was only short-lived.
Mr Kar, 50, had spent over 15 years in the food business in Mumbai before moving to Assam. His outlet, Chick N Chilly, became a popular food joint and was awarded the best chain of restaurant at the Guwahati food festival in 2019.
However, major losses due to a nationwide lockdown amid COVID-19 outbreak forced him to shut four of his five outlets. He also had to lay off more than 80 employees in the city and now plans to pack up completely. "How can we re-start, we have no resources left. I have lost over Rs 1 crore in the past four months," Mr Kar said.
In Assam, even after a rise in coronavirus cases, relaxations from the lockdown are being given in a phased manner and restaurants have been allowed to open again with restrictions after four months of shutdown. Restaurants have been allowed to operate between Monday to Friday till 5 PM, but since business establishments can remain open only on one side of the road each day alternatively, restaurants are able to run their business only three days a week.
However, people are avoiding dining out to prevent the risk of contracting the disease. Restaurant owners in Guwahati said the food business is down by 80-90 per cent since the lockdown and many famous food chains have shut down permanently.
In the last three years, the number of restaurants had doubled in Guwahati. There are over 550 restaurants in the city at present.
The food sector employs over 50,000 people across Assam.
"We had great hopes from the government. We thought since we have the expertise, they would give the work of preparing and supplying food to quarantine centres to the city restaurants amid lockdown. But the government did nothing..." said Deba Kumar Burman, president of All Assam Restaurant Association (AARA).
Among the hardest hit are restaurants serving ethnic Assamese and Northeast cuisine which mostly catered to tourists and people from outside the state.
Atul Lashkar, owner of Heritage Khorikaa in Guwahati, said: "My restaurant is making only about 10 per cent of sale. Those who supply indigenous food items like vegetables and meat are also suffering."
A customer, Keshav Gogoi, who came out to dine at Mr Lashkar's restaurant after five months, said: "The taste here is always special so I could not stop myself. However, people are scared that dining out would lead to coronavirus infections."