P.Rajagopal who single handedly bought respect to the vegetarian hotel business said a competitor. From sleeping on the kitchen floors after leaving education at 7th std . to starting a grocery store and eventually building a restaurant empire, The life of P. Rajagopal which is nothing less of spectacular is an inspiration for young entrpreneurs who want to change the way the game is played.
Owner P.Rajagopal with his 2 sons (Image source)
How it all started
P.Rajagopal(born 1947) was born in Punnaiyadi village of tuticorin village in Tamilnadu, India. Due to family financial issues, he left his education and started working at a hotel for few years as a server, after changing a few jobs, In 1973, a few years after he came to Chennai, with help of his family, started his own general provisions store in Chennai. In 1981, he started a small hotel in K K Nagar , Chennai called Saravana Bhavan, this hotel will become the first of many successful branches of the popular vegetarian chain.
What did they do different?
At that time in Tamilnadu, hotels were scarce and importance was given to quantity of food rather than quality, which put saravana bhavan at a tough spot because against the advise of his manager, P. Rajagopal wanted to use high quality ingredients and prepare food in a hygenic way yet at a cheap price, this meant a loss of over 10000 Rs. per month but eventually people understood the level of quality in saravana bhavan and the sales took off, making it one of if not the most popular vegetarian restaurant in the world.
P. Rajagopal was a new kind of a businessman during the 80’s, he believed in taking care of his workers needs, he believed when the workers are happy, the customers are happy. he provided his workers a place to live, and he pays for education for 2 kids,Free health care, housing stipends, a marriage fund for their daughters. Saravana Bhavan workers started calling him Annachi, a Tamil term of respect that means “elder brother.” It is said to be one of the most reliable jobs you can get in the restaurant Industry. On 1992 saravana bhavan adopted the popular mcdonalds model for serving food at a faster rate and the profits skyrocketed making them one of the biggest vegetarian chains of the world.
Saravana bhavan with over 39 locations in India and 43 locations overseas, is most famous for its south Indian breakfasts such as dosa, idli, utthapam, vada, with several variations. a few North Indian dishes Parotta, Chana Bhatura were added in the later stage of the business, now most of the branches over an extensive menu including sweets and vegetarian icecreams.