Not many institutions, let alone restaurants, stand the test of time, especially in this age of innovation and intense competition. Many do create hype; enjoy some good years of business and then fade away in the passage of time.
But those that do, they warrant a place in the pages of the history book. Beauty Lassi - born out of the blood and sweat of an ordinary man 100 years ago - seems to be one of those special institutions.
Beauty Lassi and Falooda was founded in 1922 by the late Abdul Aziz, a construction worker who used to sell 'lebur shorbot' aka lemonades and 'Lassi' on the streets of Ray Shaheb Bazar. Little did he know that his hand-made delights would last a 100 years. Well, it did.
On 15 June, 2021 Beauty Lassi steps into its 100th year and will officially turn hundred next year. So it's high time we revisited the history of this hundred-year-old institution.
And so I did. I went back to a beloved place from my childhood and met the artisans who make the benign lives of people in this city a little bit less monotonous, on a daily basis.
Legacy of a century
The original branch of Beauty Lassi is situated at 30/A, Johnson Road; right in the heart of quintessential Old Dhaka. When I got down from the rickshaw after a rather tiring journey, the place was teeming with more thirsty faces like me. Amid them sat Md Jabed Hossain, a middle-aged man and one of the proprietors of Beauty Lassi and Falooda.
"Starting from the footpaths of Johnson Road, my grandfather ran Beauty Lassi, from the British period, right upto Pakistani rule. During the Pakistan period, they rented the present shop. Back then, there were no concrete buildings here. After my grandfather had passed away, my father, Md. Abdul Gaffar took charge of Beauty Lassi. He has now also passed away, but his legacy lives through Beauty Lassi," said Md. Jabed Hossain, when asked about the initial days of Beauty Lassi.
Initially, beauty Lassi used to only sell 'lebur shorbot' (lemonades) and Lassi. The shop started to become popular particularly during the 1980s and gradually garnered much love and appreciation from the food lovers of Old Dhaka.
In the 2000s, after a much-needed renovation, Beauty Lassi added the special Falooda to their list of desserts. They currently serve lemonades (both with and without sugar), Lassi, special Lassi, Falooda and special Falooda.
A glass of lemonade would cost a visitor Tk20 per glass, while a glass of their special Lassi would cost Tk40. A cup of special Falooda is priced at Tk80.
As a student of the nearby St. Gregory's High School in Luxmibazar, Beauty - as the Lassi vendor is commonly referred to by locals- was often the preferred afternoon delight on a hot summer day after the final school bell had rung. So, a weird sense of pride filled me just for being associated with its history, albeit in a rather insignificant manner.
But my false sense of pride was incomparable to that of Jabed Hossain.
"It fills me with great joy and pride that we have been doing this for three generations. My grandfather found Beauty Lassi. Then my father was at the helm until 2000. Now my brothers and I are running Beauty Lassi. And I hope the next generation will continue the legacy as well," said Jabed Hossain quite gleefully.
The secret of their success
But what makes Beauty Lassi so special?
The secret may lie in how they make their Lassi or Falooda.
The artisans of Beauty do not use blenders or other modern machinery to make Lassi nor do they use raw ingredients outsourced from other places.
"We make our own 'dahi' (card) in Manik Sweetmeat and use them to make Lassi and Falooda," said Shahidullah, one of the veteran artisans at Beauty Lassi.
They also use traditional tools like 'Dal Ghotni' to mix the different ingredients of Lassi like dahi, sugar syrup, ice etc. with their hands.
But there was another, much more significant element behind their unique appeal: the heritage.
"Here in Old Dhaka, when guests come to our homes, we are often used to serving them with homemade delicacies like Lassi, lebur shorbot and Falooda. Beauty, for the past hundred years, has tried to embody that culture in its practices," said Shahidullah.
Mohammad Shahidullah, himself, appeared to be the sheer personification of their long-lasting legacy.
Shahidullah has been working at Beauty Lassi for 38 years. When he first arrived in Dhaka in the 1980s from Noakhali, he was merely a 20-year-old young man looking for a job in the city. He began working at the shop and was later trained by the late Abdul Gaffar himself in the art of making a calming glass of Lassi.
"When I first joined, it (the shop) was merely a cramped tin-shade space where people would come to enjoy their evenings. In summer, they would ask for a cold glass of lemonade or Lassi. In winter, we would make 'aloo puri' or 'dal puri' and serve them with beef and chutney. Although the shop now has modern decor tiles and everything, I still stick to the same recipe taught to me by my mentor (Md. Abdul Gaffar)," said Shahidullah.
When asked about his 38-year-long stint at the Lassi Vendors, Shahidullah said, "It was out of sheer love for the place. Lots of people from different places come here. They love our Lassi, Falooda and lemonades. So, I could not leave the place."
Beauty Lassi currently has three branches in Old Dhaka: the main one in Johnson Road, another one in Narinda and the third one in Kazi Alauddin Road. They also own Manik Sweetmeat, founded in 1998 by the Late Abdul Gaffar.
The Johnson Road branch is run by Md. Jabed Hossain while his younger brother, Manik Hossain is the proprietor of the Alauddin Road branch. On the other hand, Jabed's elder brother Iqbal Hossain is at the helm of the branch in Narinda Road. When asked about their plans for the future, Md. Jabed Hossain said, "We intend to expand and open new branches in new Dhaka. We also intend to renovate the branches with modern interiors to accommodate our guests in a more welcoming environment."