“One cannot think Well, Love well and Sleep well if one has not dined well”—Virginia Woolf
Eat, Drink and Sleep well is a universal truth for staying healthy. Many of Governments in Indian federation make it a point to woo their voters with election manifestos that revolve around good and affordable food. Amma Canteen of Tamil Nadu state and recent Indira Canteen in Bengaluru clearly depict that food plays a decisive role in Govt. programmes. Whether we are from elite society or lower strata of society or we are of western ethnicity or eastern ethnicity good food soothes our appetite. India being a diversified society South Indians love for North Indian dishes and vice versa scenario is always true. Restaurants that serve authentic, delicious Roti, Naan, Kulcha in south India are thronged by customers, whereas South Indian Delicacies like Dosa, Idli, and Vadas are in high demand in Northern states of the country. With all these preludes on food and restaurants this Abdul Kalam fan Club Post focuses on a rare entrepreneur—Mr. Jayram Banan from Udupi district of Karnataka, who ran away from home to Mumbai to avoid the torturous punishment rendered by his father for failing in exams got employed as a dishwasher in a hotel for Rs.18 salary. With hard work and sincerity, he quickly got promoted to waiter and manager of the restaurant and finally realized his potential of becoming a successful hotelier with a chain of hotels called Sagar Ratna, Swagath, and Shraman. These hotels with multi-cuisine food services have earned reputation globally for serving South Indian recipe, Sea or coastal food and North Indian food with utmost care for quality.
Nightmare of Childhood days
Jayaram Banan was one of the seven siblings born in a low-income family in the temple town of Karkala, in Udupi district of Karnataka. His father was a driver by profession and was a scary figure for his children as he used to pour chili powder in the eyes of his kids if they fail in exams. At the age of 13 Jayaram Banan failed in his school exams and fearing the punishment his father will impose on him, he ran away from home stealing as much money as possible from his father’s wallet. He had no destiny but knew that city of Mumbai is the place where the majority of the flock from his region migrate in pursuit of better life. So he sat in a Mumbai-bound bus and was spotted by a fellow villager who took him to Hindustan Organic Chemicals (HOC) canteen in a place called Panvel, in Navi Mumbai.
First Job as Dishwasher
Jayaram Banan had no other option but to sincerely serve as a dishwasher in HOC canteen by bearing all kinds of crudity his owner would show on his workers in silence. He started earning Rs. 18 per month as the wages but started learning all aspects of hotel business with immense enthusiasm. This helped him to quickly progress as table-waiter, Head-waiter and to the post of the Manager of the hotel for a salary of Rs.200. While working for HOC canteen, he nurtured his ambition to become an entrepreneur in the hotel business. It was in the year 1973 he decided to go on own with the idea of making South Indian Delicacies of Idli and Dosa. But he knew Mumbai was already a saturated market with many players competing for the share of the same pie. He quit his job at HOC and relocated to Delhi.
Year-1974 Witnessed First Entrepreneur Venture
In the year 1974, Central Govt. had plans of starting Central Electronics Ltd (CEL) in neighboring Ghaziabad district. Jayaram Banan applied for starting a canteen in the newly started CEL premises and successfully bagged the contract. For this venture, he had done a capital investment of Rs.2000. The first entrepreneurial venture was a hit he hired three cooks and ensured quality food is served. The canteen was a big success that earned him a reputation. With the same vigor, he wanted to venture into something big. His USP was to offer authentic South Indian Dosas in the market. The market had two players: 1) Halidram ka Dosa which was affordable but was not at all authentic in taste and quality. 2) Woodlands and Dasprakash hotels which served authentic dosas but at a whopping price. Jayaram could sense the best opportunity here; He planned to offer authentic south Indian dishes at the price of street-side chaats.
Year- 1986 Inception of First Hotel- ‘Sagar’
The year 1986, Jayram executed the plan of starting his Hotel under the name ‘Sagar’ in Delhi’s defense colony market. He took place for a rent of Rs. 3250 per week. The first day gave him a profit of Rs. 400. Undeterred by the circumstances he started operating the hotel for marathon hours from early morning to midnight. The quality was never compromised his hospitality and quality spread like wildfire and soon he had to take one more floor with increased seating capacity to accommodate customers. Within no time the long chain of customers became a common scene in front of his Sagar hotel.
Year-1991 Deal to buy the competitor- Woodlands
The dream run of having own restaurant at Defence colony market for four successful four years lucratively helped Jayaram to consolidate his position in the market. As a result, he successfully acquired his competitor Woodlands and expanded the horizon of his business.
He rechristened Sagar Restaurant as Sagar Ratna and completely revamped the new outlet by investing Rs. 50,000 on furniture. Also, the tariff of food was increased by 20 percent.
The Expansion Spree…
- In a short span, nearly 35 outlets of Sagar Ratna chain of hotels were operational across Delhi with political icons like Atal Bihari Vajpayee patronizing it
- Sagar Ratna started offering franchise outlets thus first-ever franchise was given to Ludhiana’s Hotel Maharaja Regency in the year 1999
- Within 15 years nearly 36 franchisees were given in various cities like Chandigarh, Meerut, Gurgaon
- The business grew overseas by starting operations in USA, UK, Australia, and Singapore.
The Diversification Mode…
Criticism is part and parcel for any achievers. Jayaram Banan is not an exception. Many envious people had started commenting that Jayaram’s restaurant serves only breakfast kind of food and is not a complete meals outlet. Jayaram Banan gave a right form of reply by venturing into a chain of hotels called Swagath that serves coastal seafood which was a rarity in North Indian region in those days. Swagath Chain of restaurants is well received by customers and even foreign customers become regular customers. Currently, 17 outlets of Swagath are operational serving Coastal food of Karnataka, Malabar, and Chettinad regions. The feather in the cap for Jayram’s endeavors is Swagath Restaurants is listed amongst popular restaurants of Asia in an internationally reputed restaurant publication called Miele Guide. He has started another chain of hotels named as Shraman to cater to the huge population of Marwari and Jain communities in a northern part of India who prefer to eat food without garlic and onion. Presently, the Sagar Ratna chain is valued at about Rs 200 Cr. and has all forms of food outlets ranging from star-category hotels, budget hotels, canteens at industrial establishments, bakery and also provides packaged snacks, pickles and ready-to-eat meals as add-ons.
Giving back to the society
Jayaram Banan has not forgotten his roots. He has started a Sagar Ratna outlet at Karkala, his Native town in memory of his parents and provides full meals at a price of Rs.10. He even offers employment to people of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in his restaurants so that his moral support is always available to needy ones of this part of the country.
Abdul Kalam Fan Club wishes readers will propagate this amazing entrepreneur’s life story amongst younger generation so that the message that seed of inspiration to reach greater heights lies in hard work and not miracles is conveyed.