From INR 5,000 to revenues of INR 3000 crores, Saravana Bhavan is the largest South Indian restaurant chain in the world today.

Their simple strategy? Make South Indians feel at home, anywhere in the world.

The story of Saravana Bhavan and its pioneer, P Rajagopal.

A thread 🧵
1947 – P Rajagopal [PR] is born to an onion farmer.

His village, Punnaiadi, was so inconsequential that it didn’t merit a bus stop.

His home was a shack with mud-and-cow-dung floors.

1959/60 - After Grade 7, PR leaves school for a job wiping tables at a restaurant.

1968 - Over the years, PR learns to make tea and moves to work as an attendant in a grocery shop.

PR eventually opens his own grocery stores, with the help of his father and brother-in-law.

1979 – The turning point

At his grocery store in KK Nagar, a salesman makes a casual remark - He has to go 3 miles away to T Nagar for lunch because KK Nagar doesn’t have any restaurants.

PR realizes the lack of restaurants in Chennai and decides that he needs to start one.

1981 – The stars align

PR’s astrologer advises him to start a business associated with fire - it fits perfectly with his plan.

Despite debt from his struggling grocery stores and little knowledge about food service, PR opens his first restaurant, Saravana Bhavan, in Madras.

PR runs Saravana Bhavan with the following beliefs firmly in place:
- Wholesome food at cheap rates
- No compromise on the quality of ingredients
- Employees to be well taken care off

The restaurant starts losing money, up to INR 10,000 per month.

PR ignores advisors that want him to reduce ingredient quality and increase prices.

PR persists and soon, the customers start pouring in.

For PR, customer service is top priority.

They are served food on banana leaves on the plate. This is a masterstroke.

It removes the uneasiness of customers regarding eating from plates on which someone had eaten before.

It also makes it easier to wash the plates.

To enhance customer service, PR makes sure his employees are disciplined.

A monthly haircut is mandatory to avoid complaints of hair falling in food + it makes the employees look presentable.

Nobody is allowed to watch late-night movies as it would affect their performance.

PR knows how to take care of his employees.

Benefits include high wages, pension, free healthcare, housing loans, a marriage fund for the workers’ daughters and magazine subscriptions.

PR is fondly called "annachi", meaning elder brother, by his loyal employees.

Over the next 20 years, Saravana Bhavan expands rapidly across India, with several restaurants opening in its place of origin.

As the restaurant chain grows, the benefits for employees grow as well.

Employee loyalty is at an all-time high.

2000 – Saravana Bhavan opens in Dubai – its first branch outside India.

Today, the chain has 100+ restaurants across 24 countries, including cities like Paris, Sydney, London and NYC.

While restaurants operate on a franchise model, the chefs continue to come from Chennai.

2004 – The setback

PR is convicted for the murder of his employee, Prince Santhakumar and is sentenced to 10 years in prison.

PR wanted to marry Santhakumar’s wife, Jeevajothi and when his advances were refused, Santhakumar was murdered.

Apparently, PR pursued Jeevajothi on the advice of an astrologer, in the quest for wealth and good fortune.

In 2009, PR’s prison term was enhanced to a life sentence.

2019 – After facing ill health, PR dies in a private hospital, aged 71 while still facing life in prison.

Today, Saravanan, PR’s youngest son, now runs the business in India, while his older son, Shiva Kumaar, is chief executive of the company’s international operations.

Even with the 'Dosa King' gone, the brand has upheld its value and loyal customers still flock to the restaurants for their staple breakfast.

Will Saravana Bhavan shake off this setback and expand further?

We can only wait and watch.


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More from @telangamol

5 Oct
Bisleri - a brand that is synonymous with packaged drinking water in India, was originally an Italian company founded by Felice Bisleri.

The story of Bisleri - How 'Ek Bisleri Dena' became the standard term for buying packaged drinking water in India.

A thread 🧵

Today, Bisleri operates 122 plants (13 owned), 4500 distributors and 5000 distribution trucks in India and neighbouring countries.

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Bisleri operates brands across mineral water, soft drinks and soda.

Bisleri has aced the SKUs as well - they sell in 250ml, 300ml, 500ml, 1L, 2L, 5L and 20L capacities.

But how did Bisleri become the giant that it is today? It all started way back in 1969.

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