saravana bhavan One of The Best South Indian Food Restro

November 8, 2022
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Saravana Bhavan isn’t a house full of secrets. The bright, clean dining room on the corner of Lexington Avenue 26th Street attracts many people. It doesn’t advertise, because it doesn’t have to.

The fact that it is one of the largest chains of vegetarian restaurants in the world — 33 in India and 47 in other countries — is too obvious for its core clientele of Indian tourists and expatriates to merit being highlighted.

Saravana Bhavan, a standard bearer of south Indian cuisine in a city dominated by bland, uninspired food, is not afraid to share its knowledge with the rest of the population. You don’t need to know anything about dosas or how they are made.

P. Rajagopal

saravana bhavan

P. Rajagopal, a 66-year old man is the man behind this chain. Rajagopal, a legend among his peers in Chennai’s restaurant industry, is the city in south India where Saravana Bhavan has its headquarters. Manoharan, a restaurateur who owns a rival chain called Murugan Idli, said that Rajagopal “brought prestige to the vegetarian industry.” He was a revolutionary.”

He was born into a low caste family in remote areas. He became the ruler of a field once ruled by Brahmins. He employs over 8,000 people in Chennai today.

His workers have access to incredible Silicon Valley benefits (pensions and TVs, education), which inspires fierce loyalty to Rajagopal.

Each day, thousands of pilgrims visit the temples he constructed in the village where he was born. A hundred thousand people eat at his restaurants.

His business model seems so foolproof that even though its founder was surrounded by scandal, the company still has an air of invincibility.

Rajagopal

Rajagopal, who was accused of murder and found guilty, was sentenced to life imprisonment as Saravana Bhavan expanded internationally.

He served only 11 months and is now free to expand his business — next stop Hong Kong followed by Sydney, Australia. If his health is good, he will build his first luxury hotel.

Saravana Bhavan is a specialist in the holy trinity south Indian snacks called tiffin, which includes dosas, idli, and vada. Each is made with ground rice and lentils.

The results can be quite different. Dosas, crispy, golden crepes, can be served with a mixture of onion and potato masala; vadas, deep-fried savory doughnuts, and idlis are the staple food of the south.

You can also buy a small book entitled “I Set My Heart on Victory” at all branches of Saravana Bhavan Chennai. This book, which Rajagopal wrote in 1997, is a memoir and manifesto that combines mythmaking with self-effacement.

His story began in 1947, 10 days prior to India’s independence. He was born in the vast Tamil Nadu brushland. Punnaiadi was such a small village that it didn’t deserve a bus stop.

His home was a shack built with mud-and cow-dung floors. Rajagopal wrote that he left school at the end of seventh grade and went to work in a restaurant in a remote resort town.

He washed in a waterfall and then slept on the floor. He was proud of his work, especially when the tea master introduced him to the secrets of making perfect chai.

As a teenager, he moved from Chennai to Madras and opened his first of a series small grocery stores on the outskirts. A salesman at his grocery in KK Nagar made a casual comment in 1979.

He said that KK Nagar did not have any restaurants and that he would have to travel all the way to T Nagar to get lunch.

In Chennai, almost all restaurants were closed a century ago. Krishnendu Ray, a N.Y.U. food-studies professor, said that Chennai was a conservative country when it came to eating out.

Rajagopal was born in a world where there were few restaurants. These Brahmin-style hotels cater to the upper caste who travel and whose dietary rules prohibit them from eating food made by other castes.

Rajagopal, a Nadar caste member, wouldn’t be allowed to eat at any Brahmin hotel, let alone own one. However, Chennai’s growing appetite for eating out was being met by entrepreneurs from other castes by the time Rajagopal reached adulthood.

Rajagopal wasn’t ready to join the ranks. In 1981, Rajagopal opened his first restaurant in KK Nagar. His struggling businesses had left him in deep debt and he didn’t know much about food service other than selling groceries.

According to him, he made the decision to take up firework as a career after an astrologer suggested it. He should not use expensive ingredients or pay his employees as much as possible.

Food workers are vagabonds and will take whatever they can get. Rajagopal wrote in his memoir that he didn’t like the adviser’s argument. Rajagopal fired his adviser and began using coconut oil and high-quality vegetables. He also gave his employees surprisingly high wages.

The restaurant was losing 10,000 rupees per month, which is a huge loss for a restaurant that sold most of its menu items for one rupee each.

Rajagopal’s food was delicious and affordable

Rajagopal’s food was delicious and affordable, and soon Rajagopal started making a profit and opening more branches. His workers received benefits that were unheard of in Indian restaurants, including free health care, housing subsidies, and a fund to marry their daughters.

Saravana Bhavan workers began calling him Annachi, which is a Tamil term for respect that means “elder sister”.

In many areas of Chennai, you could find a Saravana Bhavan by the 1990s. The brand is often referred to as the local McDonald’s. It is well lit, ubiquitous, and consistent.

The restaurants are not like McDonald’s. They make everything from scratch. A trio of bright-eyed assistants from R & D gave me a tour in Mylapore, a Chennai neighbourhood, one afternoon.

Surprised to discover that there was no freezer, but a single walk in cooler for vegetables purchased at the market the previous day. Even the rice flour used in the dosas was made on-site.

After the tour ended, I was contacted by assistants about Rajagopal. One assistant said, “He is the father of a household.” He addresses any problem I have.

Rajagopal told me that he pays his employees to travel to Rajagopal’s village every year in a bus. “I can see all the love and affection that the village people have for Annachi when I go there.”

I inquired if the company had reduced its benefits package as it grew. A second assistant replied, “They’ve only increased.”

He said that the company offers them magazine subscriptions, a cellphone, and a motorbike. It also covers fuel costs. The only benefit that was discontinued was the haircut allowance.

The third said, “And we have mechanics to make sure we don’t need to go outside to fix the vehicles.”

“My friend used joke with me that you could only do one thing with your salary, which was to put it in the bank and keep it,” the second assistant stated. They take care of everything.

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Saravana Bhavan opened a Dubai franchise in 2000. This was the first international venture for Saravana Bhavan. Rajagopal’s older son Shiva Kumaar said that the opening day crowd was “like a new movie.” The company would eventually expand to Paris and Frankfurt, London, Dallas, Doha, Qatar, and Dallas.

It is easy to open one restaurant in each city that has a large Indian expat population. Manhattan is the exception, with two restaurants. You can exploit homesickness and import skilled chefs to make sure that your food tastes exactly the same in Chennai. Do not try to attract non-Indian clients.

Rajagopal was arrested in 2002 for murdering the husband and wife of the woman he had planned to marry. His restaurant grew to Canada, Oman, and Malaysia in 2003.

Rajagopal's food

Rajagopal’s food was delicious and affordable

He was sentenced to his Rajagopal’s food was delicious and affordable. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a Chennai court in 2004. The empire had already opened 29 branches around the world by the end of 2004.

Eight months after Rajagopal was sentenced, the Supreme Court lifted Rajagopal’s sentence for medical reasons while he waited to appeal. This was based on Rajagopal’s diabetes.

The verdict was upheld by the Madras High Court in 2009. It also elevated Rajagopal’s conviction from culpable murder to murder. This sentence was increased to life imprisonment.

He was released on bail for a three-month period while awaiting a Supreme Court hearing. This is not something that anyone expects to happen soon.

He is free to live his normal life, even though he won’t be given his passport back by the courts. In the 12 years since the murder, all 47 of Saravana Bhavan’s foreign franchises have been opened.

Sriram V., a local historian, said that “it’s amazing how it managed it.” “It’s not so bad, our legal system.”

The tabloids in Chennai published every detail about the murder allegations. But the restaurant grew. Manoharan, a representative of Murugan Idli, stated that “others in that position would totally collapse.” People thought he was done. However, there was no impact.

Rajagopal is not interested in fame, he only promotes the restaurant’s name, and not his own. This makes it easier for customers compartmentalize. One Saravana Bhavan fan told me, “Some of my friends used say, How can I go and eat at his restaurant?” In reality, you’re causing the death of a murderer by gaining weight.

I used to tell them: Look, I don’t know who I do business with in my day-today activities, whether he’s drunk or beats his spouse. I don’t know, but I do business. So long as he gives me good-quality food I will go there.”

Saravana Bhavan employees are especially loyal. M. Mahadevan is a consultant who helped the chain expand internationally. He told me a story that illustrated their devotion. Mahadevan stated, “I was at Saravana Bhavan down on the road, drinking coffee and with some friends.

 Mahadevan refers to Rajagopal as “the old man” and says that Rajagopal was in prison at the time. These eight big, hulky men came in — they were local rowdies. They wanted to eat for free. One of them bullied the waiter and said: “Hey, mister.

How’s your boss?” Don’t be funny, I know that he’s inside. There was also a boy pouring water and he said to them: ‘You are talking about my boss. If you say anything about him, I’ll pour this jug into your mouth. It’s not on you.

The boy was three feet tall. All the waiters came immediately and stood beside him.

“He considered the old man a god. Period. That kind of loyalty is his. He takes street boys and villages to teach them. He takes them in and molds them.”

On a Wednesday night in August, Rajagopal invited me to Saravana Bhavan headquarters. I passed several of Rajagopal’s restaurants as I made my way through the city’s endless gridlock. Mahadevan met me at the dining room, and took me to Rajagopal’s office.

He introduced me to Saravanan, Rajagopal’s 39-year old son. Saravanan is slowly taking over the domestic operations of the company. His elder brother Shiva Kumaar runs the international business. The three of us sat for a while and gazed at the walls.

Every surface was covered in blown-up images from Rajagopal’s family members and favourite Hindu

Finally, Mahadevanan and Saravanan rose. Rajagopal entered the office through the open door.

He looked grayer and more jowlier in person than the photos I had seen. He looked around the room with mild amusement and then bowed politely.

He then walked behind his desk and faced a portrait a well-known guru. He then folded his hands for a moment to pray. Ganapathi, his oldest friend and personal assistant, was also there.

The valet, who was always ready to offer a glass water when his boss coughed, sat with us all. No one was relaxed.

Rajagopal answered my questions about his business philosophy and origins. Rajagopal answered each question in Tamil. Then Saravanan, Mahadevan, or Iyer would reply in Tamil.

All three would then jump in to clarify or elaborate in English. Rajagopal doesn’t speak Tamil. This dynamic sometimes frustrated Rajagopal.

Rajagopal cut through the chatter when I asked them about the murder. He said, “I’m not responsible” for any death. “I used to pray before God, so why was I punished for another’s sin?” He explained.

Rajagopal was still working after we had finished our conversation. Eight employees waited in line outside Rajagopal’s office to speak with them.

A proud older man, sporting a mustache and a beard, told me that he was a nightwatchman and came to Rajagopal to ask for a promotion.

Another man said that he wanted to be transferred to another branch. Another said that he wanted Rajagopal to know about his upcoming wedding.

I returned to Rajagopal’s office. He sat down at his desk and studied a spreadsheet using a magnifying lens. He then consulted his assistant before calling the first man.

Rajagopal ignored his assistant and began to bark into a walkie talkie

Rajagopal ignored his assistant and began to bark into a walkie talkie, asking the voice at the other end who had brought him this man.

The walkie-talkie gave me a surprising answer. “They fight the whole night.” This was not what he said outside. The man hung his head. Rajagopal fired the man on the spot.

Rajagopal was told by another voice on the talkie-talkie that he had been playing with his phone in the dining area. I found out that almost all of the employees in line had lied; they were there for discipline.

Rajagopal stated, “You’ve been here for two and a quarter years. Don’t you know that your phone is not allowed to be used during work hours?”

The man murmured, “I did it by accident.”

“Answer my question!” Rajagopal snapped.

The man replied, “I forgot,”

“How can you forget?” You should serve when you are in service.

He gave the man another chance. The watchman was next.

Rajagopal stated, “I heard that you got drunk and verbally abused everybody,” “You should shave your mustache. These are bad habits.

He said, “I’m sorry Annachi.” “Forgive me.”

Rajagopal asked, “How can you?” “There is an age to forgive. It doesn’t make any sense at your age.” The watchman looked down at the floor. “Are you listening?” Rajagopal asked.

He decided to show mercy again and he would continue his job so long as he stopped drinking. He thanked him and then walked away, without looking back.

Rajagopal was satisfied with the night’s work and he sat down in his chair. He asked, “What should I do?” “Everyone makes mistakes.”

The Madras High Court

The Madras High Court issued a 30,000 word document as the final statement regarding Rajagopal’s appeal case in 2009. The court warns that a witness cannot expect to have a photographic memory of details and actual words spoken. It is not like a videotape can be replayed on the mind screen.” However, this version of events was deemed most credible by the court.

According to the document Rajagopal decided to marry Jeevajothi — possibly at the suggestion of his astrologer. Rajagopal would have been his third wife simultaneously. He had already married his mother in 1972 and married his assistant manager in 1994.

Rajagopal was not a passion for Jeevajothi. Santhakumar, her brother’s math tutor was the one she fell in love with. Jeevajothi and Santhakumar got married in 1999. Rajagopal, however, was not satisfied with her love for Santhakumar. He gave her jewelry, dresses, and several installments cash to help open a travel agency.

Although Jeevajothi accepted Rajagopal’s gifts, she refused to accept Rajagopal’s advances. Rajagopal visited Jeevajothi’s home at midnight on Sept. 28 2001 and told Santhakumar that they had only two days to end their relationship

Jeevajothi was informed by Rajagopal that his second wife had also rejected him at first, but now she was leading a “queen life.”

They tried to run to Rajagopal, but five Rajagopal employees led by Daniel intercepted them. They forced Rajagopal and the couple to get into an Ambassador car. Then they drove them to a Saravana Bhavan warehouse at KK Nagar where Rajagopal was waiting.

According to court testimony, Rajagopal lifted his dhoti up and beat Santhakumar. Jeevajothi fell on Rajagopal’s knees and begged him not to. Rajagopal ordered his men to take Santhakumar into the next room and continue beating them. Jeevajothi wept in the corner.

Daniel called Jeevajothi

Daniel called Jeevajothi the next day to apologize and suggested she contact the police.

Rajagopal’s men placed Jeevajothi, and Santhakumar in a house arrest. However, they managed to escape on October 12 under the pretense of going to Rajagopal’s “felicitation function”.

They instead went to the office of the city police commissioner to file a formal complaint. Six days later Rajagopal’s workers kidnapped them again and forced them to separate.

Rajagopal and Jeevajothi pushed Jeevajothi into the Mercedes and then asked her questions about the contents of Rajagopal’s police complaint.

Jeevajothi was not aware of the fate of Santhakumar. Two days later, he called her to inform her that Rajagopal had given Daniel 500,000 rupees ($10,000), but Daniel had let him escape.

He also advised him to hide in Mumbai. She asked Santhakumar for his return; Jeevajothi stated that they had pleaded with Rajagopal not to abandon them. The court stated that it was obvious that their love for one another compelled them to take the chance.

Later that night, Jeevajothi’s parents, brother and sister joined them as they went to Saravana Bhavan headquarters in order to meet Rajagopal. He instructed them to wait in another room.

interrogated Daniel about Santhakumar’s fate

He then interrogated Daniel about Santhakumar’s fate. Daniel lied, saying that he had tied him on a railway track and ran him over. The train then burned his clothes. Rajagopal called Santhakumar into his room with a dramatic flourish.

He then asked Daniel, Santhakumar’s ghost, who’s this? Santhakumar was enraged by Daniel’s betrayal to Rajagopal and began beating him in the office. Jeevajothi and her relatives tried to intervene.

Rajagopal and his henchmen eventually put them all in a van. According to the court, they took them to a specialist from a faraway village to “remove witchcraft.”

Two days later Rajagopal’s men forced Santhakumar to get into a car along with Daniel and drove north. Forest officials found a body high in the Western Ghats mountains, near Kodaikanal.

A local assistant surgeon concluded that Santhakumar died from asphyxia due to throttling. The body was later discovered by the police under Daniel’s seat.

Rajagopal was also convicted and Daniel was released on bail. However, I was not able to locate him. Jeevajothi has also made herself difficult to locate.

I flew to the village where Rajagopal grew up three days after meeting him in Chennai. Rajagopal’s driver picked us up and smiled when I asked what his boss was like. He said, “He’s like an living god to us.” He understands all problems and can solve them.

According to Rajagopal, the village’s name was changed from Punnaiadi, to Punnai Nagar because of Rajagopal’s development in the area. There is even a bus stop there. Punnai Nagar has a much smaller population than when Rajagopal was born.

The village has seen tremendous transformation. Rajagopal built a surreal monument in the middle of the red-dirt landscape to celebrate his success. It is a four-acre Saravana Bhavan campus

A million-dollar Hindu temple is the centerpiece of the campus, flanked by 140 employees at Saravana Bhavan’s restaurant — all in a village with fewer than 90 homes.

Rajagopal built his house in 1994, on the same spot as his childhood home. He has been spending more time there than ever before. It is a large beige block with almost all the space being used for dormitory rooms for his staff. Only pictures of gods are the decorations.

Rajagopal sat down on a chair next to me, after which he emerged from a backroom. Ganapathi, his assistant, and his valet were also present. They pricked Rajagopal’s finger to perform a blood sugar test. Rajagopal, however, was not as willing to allow them to control the conversation.

I asked him about a rumor claiming that he had improved the food in the prison canteen while incarcerated. He said, “You can’t make any changes there.” To get my food delivered home, I had to spend 1 lakh (100,000 rupees) each month.

Rajagopal was told by Iyer, “Don’t tell this to him.” “Do we need to talk about corruption?”

Rajagopal stated, “They should be aware of how corrupt we are.” “We cannot just brag about how good we are all the time. It is necessary to tell the truth.”

I asked him about the things he dislikes most about his work.

He said, “I don’t like employees drinking or lying.” “If you ask, I don’t like that Jeevajothi was pursued.”

“Sir,” Iyer replied, “just office work. office work.”

Rajagopal stated, “There’s nothing that I dislike about this work.”

Rajagopal admitted that he was tired after a while. He spoke about the importance of villager success to help their communities as he got up to go. He said, “Developing villages was Gandhi’s dream.” “I believe in Gandhi.”

I asked him what he liked most about Gandhi. He laughed. “I like that his arm had a girl.” He looked at me through my translator. Tell him that girls keep a man young for life.

His assistant replied, “Tell him those last comments were just jokes.”

I was in Chennai with Rajagopal and Saravanan shortly before I left. We spoke for hours together in the foyer of Rajagopal’s office. Saravanan is a gentle, large man with a quiet voice.

His father was described as “keep-guessing” by him. “You don’t know what he will end up wanting,” he stated. “A phone call will come, and you must be absolutely certain what he is asking and what you are answering.

This fear is common for everyone.” Does he make a difficult boss? I inquired. Saravanan replied, “When he wants it done in a certain manner, he is quite intimidating.” It must be done at all costs.

He said that if he had the choice, he would have chosen to become an engineer. He said to his father, “No, we are from a business community. You have to study commerce.” Rajagopal then told him that he needed to study hotel management.

His father then assigned him to a seven year rotation through the company’s departments. He was responsible for purchasing vegetables, the graveyard shift in kitchen, managing a Saravana sweets store, and making ice cream. Also, his father was responsible for maintaining and accounting as well as human resources.

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