Size doesn't really matter when it comes to popularity and reputation. To see a glorious example of this, one has to head to Al Muntazah in Doha and look for what is known as the 'Taxi restaurant'.
Located opposite Rawdat Al Khail Park, this small outlet - officially named Al Salhiya Tea Stall and Restaurant - with a limited number of seats for diners, happens to be one of the most popular and beloved eateries in the city.
Known as a place that offers various food items at affordable rates round-the-clock, 'Taxi' remains the go-to eatery for a large number of people from different nationalities every day. The eatery wears a busy look, be it day or night, and is particularly popular among people looking for a meal late at night after a hard day's work.
Since space is limited inside, customers can often be seen waiting in long queues of cars parked on the adjacent road, while some choose to collect their food or drink and head to the park.
The restaurant has been offering tasty food at affordable prices for nearly six decades. While low-income expatriates are known to be the biggest patrons of this eatery, the clientele includes more well-heeled individuals, too.
With beginnings in a small car garage of a villa by Abdullah Mohamed, who was from a small hamlet called Parakkadavu in northern Kerala, the restaurant has a long story to tell that coincides with the progress of Qatar.
After the death of Abdullah Mohamed, Abdulla Soopy Haji started managing the restaurant. Abdulla Soopy passed away in 2020, and his son Harris Valluvacherry is currently managing the restaurant along with some relatives.
“This is one of the earliest restaurants in Qatar. It was the meeting point for all expatriates during those days. Whenever there are new arrivals to Qatar, they are brought to our restaurant directly from the airport for meals. So, it is a place that tells good old stories, has a lot of nostalgic memories for everyone from those days and has a distinct place in Qatar’s history,” Harris, a third-generation member of the family business, told Gulf Times.
The restaurant gradually emerged as the meeting place for many residents, particularly those looking for food at odd hours. Abdulla Soopy was a kind-hearted man, and nobody was denied food at any time, sometimes even if they did not have money.
“My father was helpful to others. He always told us to help the needy and the deserving. It was very important for him that we serve food at minimum prices and ensure everyone is treated well. The restaurant continues to be busy even now and a large number of patrons come every day to have their meals at very affordable prices. This is what my father taught us and we are committed to continuing his legacy at any cost,” Harris noted.
The eatery came to be known as 'Taxi restaurant' as taxi drivers used to visit the place in big numbers to have food. “The restaurant became a hub for taxi drivers as they could get food at affordable prices. Soopy Haji wanted to help the underprivileged with quality food round-the-clock. He never compromised when it came to the quality of food,” said restaurant manager Muneer Puthiyapurayil.
“It is a really distinct spot in Qatar and was a meeting point for all newcomers to Qatar in the early years. It was the meeting point for many, and people used to come in groups with their friends and relatives. It was also a place for people to meet and greet and renew their friendship for several decades until modern communication facilities became available,” Muneer recalled.
He said the restaurant continues to be busy and said customers include people from different walks of life. He added, “We serve quality food 24/7 and are ready to serve everybody at any time. A minimum of 1,000 people visit the restaurant daily and we also get a lot of parcel orders. We would like to preserve the place as a special spot, so that old memories can be recollected and shared.”
The restaurant has been a go-to place for expatriates for decades. PICTURES: Shaji Kayamkulam
Harris Valluvacherry (right) with a staff member.