Once upon a time, I worked down Vauxhall Lane in Colombo 2. Travelling from Ratmalana, I used to get down at Galle Face Court and walk to my office. There was a reason for it; to have breakfast at Elephant House’s Fountain Cafe, followed by a fresh glass of milk.
I would then make a second trip there around midday to have lunch. Going to Fountain Café was a part of my daily routine. Owned by Elephant House, the food served at this bustling café was fresh and the best in town. I enjoyed every meal I had there. Not only was the food of best quality, the staff was well mannered and attentive to customer needs. They knew and understood their customers. Fountain Café was a place where people met. Families enjoyed a meal while young couples whispered over food.
Fountain Café was famous for short eats – rolls, cutlets and patties – and of course their sauce, which was something else. No sauce today can match it. The Elephant House hot dog served with that sauce was much sought after and a favourite of many. Their rice and curry was also very reasonable.
I recently walked in Colombo 2; from Dawson Street to the Union Place junction. Having relocated to Colombo recently, I stopped at an electrical shop to buy plug points and asked the old gentleman who owned the wayside shop if there was a good place to eat. “No. There is no place here after they closed the old Fountain Cafe. I bring my food from home,” replied the shop owner to my surprise. I nodded with sadness and nostalgia. The hours I may have spent there enjoying a meal, or reading a book while sipping a cup of strong tea!
Why can’t we maintain the good places people love to have?
I wanted to buy something from Union Place, I mean, Dr Colvin R de Silva Mawatha (long name of a late Sri Lankan Communist leader). Next to the electrical shop was David Gram store selling chilli hot peanuts, gram and murukku. I bought some hot peanuts to contribute to David’s livelihood and let myself go nuts.
That wasn’t enough for me. I walked all the way back in search of the ‘new’ Fountain Cafe inside Keells Super. It was no Fountain Cafe. It was nothing like the old one. Hidden inside Keels Super Market it was an excuse and an insult to the old Elephant House Fountain Cafe. I did not feel welcomed. There was no smell of fresh food, farm fresh milk. There were no attentive waiters. It was just another cafe. It could have been anywhere. I wanted to turn back and leave the building. Then, I told myself, ‘No. I must try some food for old times’ sake.’
There was no proper rice and curry like in the old days. No gravy; no dhal; but some dry chicken, rice and curry were what the young waiter served. I tried. The food was terrible. Then came my next order; iced tea – a tea full of sugar. It was really a sugar tea. I looked around to see if any of those old waiters from Elephant House, Fountain Cafe were looking from some corner. There wasn’t even one. The new waiters were not even dressed like them.
Overcome by sadness and nostalgia, I stepped out of the café.
Those were the good old days when everything fresh was available at the Elephant House Fountain Cafe. Why did the new management at John Keells do away with it? Elephant House is a time tested brand in Sri Lanka, a brand Sri Lanka can be proud of. Who would forget Elephant House drinks (Aliya Beema) or Elephant House Ice Palam? Who would forget those green stripes or those carts with the blaring horn? No amount of cinnamon would do without the old Elephant House, Fountain Cafe. I hope my Street Walk would catch the attention of my friend Susantha Ratnayake, Chairman of John Keells and his executives would take necessary steps to revive the old Fountain Cafe to provide farm fresh quality food like in the olden days.
When I tweeted of the missing Elephant House Fountain Cafe, my friend Arun Tambimuttu tweeted all the way from Batticaloa agreeing with me. Many others joined. Another friend, Trevor Reckermann said “There are many fountains in Colombo. Not all good.”
Ravi Mendis from London responded: “Seeya used to take me there. Childhood memories.” Mr. Saliya Perera, a former Thurstan College Cricket Captain who married famous Shyama Ananda (Baby Shyama) wrote from Canada “Ice Palam winner. Hot dogs and the best vanilla ice cream in the world with the perfect atmosphere. All history now.”
Retired Brigadier Shiam Vidurupola working for the UN somewhere in the world wrote “Surely a great place just outside Army HQ gates. Personally glad that the walls which whistled then, can no longer talk.” s Rohan Sourjah of Rugby fame had something positive to say “Hot dogs still taste great because of that wonderful sauce, YUM!! I prefer the old sausages to the current chicken sausages though.”
Mickey Cooke from Vancouver, Canada joined: “How sad…… my parents used to take us there for hotdogs whenever we were in Colombo!!!” Mickey was from the plantations. A Teacher from St Thomas’ Prep and later at Trinity College Kandy, Sunil Jayatunga said: “The old one was where we Prep. cricket teams went for a feed after cricket matches… What fun we had in education then with adventure.”
It looks like so many in Sri Lanka and overseas miss the old Fountain Cafe run by Elephant House. Please bring it back!