Let's raise a toast…rather a ladle to the sweet twosome — the mysurpa and its maker. It's not often that you can tell a man so precisely by his business venture. The soft-spoken and genteel M. Murali perfectly complements the luscious and melt-in-a-minute mysurpa his family has popularised the world over.
From security guards to supervisors and cooks, Murali greets everyone cheerily as we walk into the massive and immaculate factory of Sri Krishna Sweets in Tiruvallur. You are led to sweet temptations with huge kadais sending out delicious fumes and piles of mysurpas, pista rolls, kaju katlis, badurshas and more, stacked on trays. Clad in spotless white shirt and trousers, Murali stands out against the colourful sweets.
“My hopes, fears, hard work and dreams have gone into designing this factory. Every time I am here, I, invariably, think of how I began my journey as an eight-year-old working in my father's (N.K. Mahadeva Iyer) small restaurant in Coimbatore,” says Murali going around the various sections — raw material, cooking, testing, packaging and supply — spread over two floors.
As your attention is drawn towards the mounds of cardboard boxes, he turns around to tell you about the frenzied pace of work before Deepavali. “The production increases ten-fold, and it takes days to get back to normalcy. And, before you can recover, the next festival is round the corner.”
Murali never had to looked beyond home for inspiration. Even today, he looks up at the sky for guidance from his late father, a visionary, who developed his 500-sq.ft. restaurant-cum-sweets counter into a talk-of-the-town enterprise. “He never went about it like a businessman. He approached it with the passion of a craftsperson. He was constantly stirred about mixing and matching ingredients to arrive at a new sweet,” recalls the son.
It was his father who gave a super-soft twist to the decadent, hard Mysore Pak, and made it Sri Krishna Sweets' flagship product.
As mystifying as the mysurpa is Murali's mind-boggling collection of Ganeshas in all shapes, sizes, postures, and material.
More than 2,500 Ganeshas arranged neatly in glass cupboards occupy a prominent place in his modest, functional office in T. Nagar, behind Sri Krishna Sweet's first outlet in Chennai. “Earlier, I desperately chased my friend Ganesha, now he willingly comes to me,” says Murali looking fondly at the latest addition — a kanak pillai Ganesha sitting on his table.
“I find his unique form very friendly, and feel he exudes a positive and happy vibe. More than anything, he is my management guru. Behind my every move forward there is appa and pilayarappa,” says Murali.
As part of Sri Krishna Sweets' expansion plans, Murali came to Chennai in 1996. His elder brother M. Krishnan continues to work out of Coimbatore, handling all the outlets except those in Chennai. “The amazing response and affection I got from people here held me back. Now I cannot think of relocating.”
Sri Krishna Sweets has 22 outlets in Chennai, 60 across the country and three in the UAE. Soon it will have branches in the U.S. too.
Then there's Rasam, the chain of vegetarian restaurants (the one at Purasawalkam is housed in a gorgeous 120-year-old heritage structure), Krishna Bhavan eateries, and packed food products.
A core team works at quality control, marketing strategies and widening the range of sweets and savouries. Commerce apart, Murali is committed to several social and cultural causes.
He supports old-age homes and orphanages, besides patronising sabhas and educational institutions. “Once during Deepavali, I told my father how all our sweets had been sold out, and his eyes turned moist. He told me if I shared my success with the needy, he would be truly delighted. And, I took my first step towards corporate social responsibility. Now, I constantly think of ways to reach out.”
Three years ago, Sri Krishna Sweets received applause in the U.S. Congress for its community building initiatives.
Murali also enjoys organising programmes to inculcate values in youngsters, encourage spiritual activities, promote classical arts, and felicitate and care for veteran artistes.
He used to regularly visit M.S. Subbulakshmi's house with her favourite neiappam, and also Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, who would joke that the mysurpa went down his throat as smoothly as a vehicle on a traffic-free road. Thousands of others think so too.
Little wonder that last year the sweets maker made it to the Limca Book of Records for churning out 17.5 tonnes of mysurpa in two days for a corporate client.