Fifty piping hot years of Indian Coffee House

March 8th, 2008 - 11:01 am ICT by admin  

By Jeevan Mathew Kurian
Kozhikode, March 8 (IANS) If you sip a cup of hot coffee at the Indian Coffee House, you contribute to the cause of the working class. The popular restaurant chain, run by workers’ cooperatives, marks its golden jubilee this year. There are about 70 Indian Coffee Houses in Kerala that dish out idli, dosa, vada, biryani and of course coffee among other things. But since the chain has branches all over India, the fare varies from region to region.

You can be sure of tasty, clean and reasonably priced fare at the Indian Coffee House. The Kerala branches function under two workers’ societies, one based at Thrissur and the other in Kannur.

“We serve 10,000 afternoon meals a day and 25,000 people visit our 17 outlets daily,” I.V. Sivaraman, president of the Kannur-based Indian Coffee Board Workers’ Cooperative Society, told IANS.

The all-India branches are under their respective regional societies, most of which are affiliated to the All India Coffee Workers’ Cooperative Societies’ Federation.

The societies in Kerala were set up in 1958 and are celebrating their golden jubilee this year. It was a year earlier in 1957 that the coffee houses came to be owned by workers. The Coffee Board, which was running these restaurants, decided to close them and retrench the workers.

Witnessing the plight of workers, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader A.K. Gopalan, the first leader of the opposition in the Indian parliament, organised them and founded the Indian Coffee Board Workers’ Cooperative Society.

The first society was set up in Bangalore on Aug 19, 1957.

“Now, there are 11 Indian Coffee Board Workers’ Societies in the country and they have more than 300 restaurants. There are also three societies which are not affiliated to the all-India federation,” says Sivaraman, who is also deputy chairman of the federation.

“The society is truly a workers’ cooperative. The president is elected from among the workers. Any worker can contest the polls. The society is run by a board of directors, with workers as members,” said V. Sasidharan Nair, president of the Thrissur-based workers’ cooperative society.

“We have 52 restaurants across Kerala. Last year the turnover was Rs.340 million. The society is a non-profit organisation. As a workers’ venture the profit will go as benefits to them,” he added.

The coffee houses vouch that their aim is to provide quality food at a low cost.”You know how the price of provisions, especially rice, went up here. We did not hike the prices proportionately,” said Sivaraman.

The Kannur society clocked a Rs.130-million turnover last financial year. However, the profit was only Rs.115,000.

“This shows that we are not for profiteering. As a workers’ cooperative, we give all the benefits to our workers, just like in a government service,” says Sivaraman.

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