In an exclusive interview to Restaurant India, P R Shiva Kumar, Director, Saravan Bhavan talks about setting up a vegetarian legacy in global market.
Started by B Rajagopal who began his career as a hotel cleaner, Saravana Bhavan took charge in 1981 as an all vegetarian restaurant. Since then, the Saravana Bhavan Empire has grown, with vegetarian restaurants and hotels throughout India, and even a branch in 20 countries. In late 1990s Rajagopal’s son Shiva Kumar and his younger brother joined the business marking its expansion in Indian as well as setting first global outlet in Dubai in 2000. With over 7000+ employees and over 20 countries presence, Saravana Bhavan is rowing heaps and bounds. Here are the excerpts from interview:
How has been the journey of Saravana Bhavan in last 30 years?
We opened our first branch in 1981 which was a small 60 seater restaurant with 24 staffs. When we opened there was no brand for restaurants, south Indian restaurant and there was no quality restaurant serving south Indian food in a presentable manner. Started by my father who was instrumental in standardising the restaurant- food, presentation, employee welfare which helped us earn good name in the market and slowly we started expanding into multiple restaurants. And, from multiple restaurants back in the 1980s people started accepting our brand. So, we were able to create a brand image in 1990s. And, soon we opened first overseas unit in Dubai in 2000.
How many restaurants you are running in both global and Indian markets?
We have 37 restaurants in India and 63 restaurants in over 20 countries globally. All the outlets are company owned and operated by local investors.
What was the major challenge taking your brand to a global land?
Major challenge was getting work permits for our staffs in different countries and different cities. Otherwise, sourcing of ingredient and local man power was not a problem. All our local produce is available in all the countries we are operating. Hence, we got good acceptance of the brand in these markets.
Let’s talk money- which is your top performing restaurant in terms of revenue?
California is our top performing restaurants. We have two restaurants there which is getting us good numbers. The Indian expats are quite lot in number and they spend on food throughout the week and the culture is like that.
What was the key responsibility attached with you when you joined the brand?
The key responsibility was to take care that the standard is maintain and it should never let down. At that time we didn’t expect to grow locally. We wanted to focus locally but there was substantial demand from global market that we branching out.
What growth do you see in India for your brand?
In India there is some tremendous growth in terms of trends. Lots of people are relishing south Indian food and there is tremendous growth for our brand.
What is your expansion plans?
We are growing from one city to another in global market. Locally, we are not growing as we are focusing on building our own hotels in Chennai. And, that’s the reason we don’t want to grow our restaurants in India.
What is your unique marketing strategy?
Now, that there is 30+ restaurants in Chennai. We don’t market our self as people are aware about the brand. People come to know through word of mouth by the brand. We don’t focus on marketing rather we focus on maintaining the quality for our food and standards of keeping our restaurant. We focus on product and service and not marketing. Having been in the industry for 30 years there is no need to market our self.
How do you attract customers at your restaurant?
We keep on innovating our menu, bringing new dishes and food.
We have seen that people are not loyal to a particular brand today. What could be the reason?
People today want variety in ambience, taste of food. They change every other day or week and there is possibility for people to try different restaurant and people also want to have variety in their food. And, that’s the biggest reason people are not loyal.
What is an average footfall at your outlets?
We get 100 thousand footfalls a day including all global outlets and local stores.
How do you see the growing competition in the market?
Certainly there is a different set of restaurant which is cropping up these days so competition is a healthy way of success and it is only because of the competition that the quality of food is kept to the highest standards. At the same time competition we also take lot of our business and people have a variety to choose from.