Too many cooks, need not spoil the broth. If employed adroitly, they can flavour the sambar and revolutionise an industry. The seeds were laid forty years ago, when a small time hotelier Padmanabha Pothi relocated to Chennai with his family, hungy for better business. Both his sons – Rajagopal, who was studying to become a Chartered Accountant and Suresh,who was in his Pre University Course, decided to join the venture with their first ‘Suprabatham’ restaurant in West Mambalam.
Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, Suresh was keen to rough it out independently. After sweating it out in kitchens in various nondescript hotels in Tamil Nadu to get the hang of the business, Suresh mustered the courage to set up his own vegetarian restaurant on Armenian Street near the Madras High Court in the mid eighties, catering to the ever burgeoning lawyer community, shipping executives and traders in the area. As the family loved music and Suresh was an ardent fan of M.S.Subbalakshmi, they zeroed in on the name ‘Sangeetha’. Toiling for 18 hours a day, often sleeping in the restauarant itself, Suresh transformed it into notes of success.
Five years on, in 1990, Rajagopal took the cue and started his own Sangeetha restaurant near the Kapaleeswar Temple in Mylapore. With a punishing 7 am to 12 midnight schedule, often entailing in crashing overnight in the dining hall, like his brother, Rajagopal gradually scaled up operations.
Today, brand Sangeetha has 51 restaurants. The brothers own 21 outlets,with 16 franchises abroad – in San Francisco, London, Paris, Hongkong, Malaysia, Qatar, Bahrain, Dubai and 14 in Chennai. The annual turnover is a whopping 350 crore.
Their recipe for success is no secret. Attention to detail characterises the daily routine of the owners. Site visits include a peep into the washrooms, an inspection of the kitchens, poring over the daily sales, tasting the food and striking a rapport with customers. A sizeable chunk of the crowd at the condolence meetings organised by the brothers for both their parents, comprised Sangeetha customers and was a reflection of the personal touch of the owners in their style of functioning. Suggestions are acted upon with alacrity, like customised breakfast combos for kids.
Maintaining quality is the USP here. The sambar is almost addictive. And seldom can you come across vadas as crisp in any other restaurant. A slew of awards adorn the walls of the restaurants. The pricing is so reasonable that a family of five can have a sumptuous breakfast for five to six hundred rupees.
The staff at Sangeetha feel like government employees. It’s not just the job security but a slew of welfare measures that can be attributed to the extremely low attrition in the organisation. Adulatory feedback from customers about any employee, especially the waiters, is broadcast to everyone in the company.
With generation next having entered the family business – Suresh’s daughter Sanjana and Rajagopal’s son Anirudh, who studied Hotel Management in Manipal, they plan to open restaurants in Belgium and Canada and are also eyeing the North Indian market.
For quite sometime, Sangeetha had overtaken Saravana Bhavan, in terms of both quality and quantity. But Rajagopal credits the late founder and his namesake for being the pioneer in the industry. What about competition in the form of Akshayam coming up? This may trigger a temporary price war. But the Sangeetha brothers view new entrants as an insurance against complacency, as competition keeps everyone on their toes. ‘Breakfast at Sangeetha’ has been a compulsive habit for customers. Almost a way of life that you can hardly shake off.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)