J Suresh was contemplating quitting his well-paying IT job to get involved with something more meaningful when he came across ‘Uzhavan Unavagam’ . The initiative, started in 2011 by inspiring IAS officer U Sagayam in Madurai, popularised traditional millet based food of Tamil Nadu via the farmers.
An ardent admirer of organic farming scientist G Nammalvar, Suresh had attended workshops conducted by the crusader. Once he began to do ground work and research, he decided to launch a catering business in Chennai. “I decided to use only millets,” he says, adding that he felt it would be an effective way to popularise them. “So, in 2014, I launched ‘Thirukural Unavagam’ in Virugambakkam, Chennai. But, I could not sustain it beyond two months.”
Undeterred, he decided to set up shop on the city’s outskirts, and opened a two-table restaurant at Karayanchavadi, catering predominantly to industrial workers in the vicinity. He was joined by Karthikeyan E, thanks to the happenstance of himcatering Karthikeyan’s wedding. “I was keen on serving millet-based traditional food in my wedding and Suresh pitched in,” says Karthikeyan, adding, “Since then we’ve been travelling together.”
Together, they did extensive research local food, determined to find a way to make it appealing to millenial customers. And by 2016 September, they had launched a restaurant in Adyar, banking on its proximity to the IT corridor and the success of pure vegetarian restaurants in the locality.
From a humble beginning with 12 recipes, today they serve close to 45 different dishes, many of which are innovative. “Standard menus don’t work here and therefore we constantly innovate,” says Suresh, adding “Tricolour puri s and sukku malli rolls appeal to younger customers. I have even developed pani puri with ragi ,served with mudakathan juice. However, the most popular items on our menu are the two traditional set meals: Tholkappiar and Nammalvar Thaali.”
The restaurant also serves millet chapati s stuffed with traditional herbs and vegetables. “Our recipes are built on three things: millets, herbs and heritage rice varieties of Tamil Nadu. Our vision is to build our unique cuisine as an elite brand,” says Suresh, adding that they refuse to compromise on these parameters. “In fact, we do not serve what customers like, but what is good for them,” he adds firmly.
Karthikeyan says most of their customers are “the health conscious population,” adding that includes a lot of younger customers. He says, “We plan to laun
“We are economically stable, thanks to the increased awareness on food safety among the public,” says Karthikeyan, adding that he finally has time to read books, mostly on nature, farming and business. He has enrolled for Masters in Psychology. The next step? “We plan to start farming, as our heart lies there.”
On the menu
--> Vegetarian omelettes, which are thin pancakes made by grinding together sprouted moong with green chillies.
--> The Tholkappiar Virundhu includes 18 traditional dishes, served with heritage rice for just ₹148.
--> The Nammalvar Virundhu replaces rice with millets and has 20 items, for ₹158.
--> End your meal with herbal tea, made with thipili, adhimadhuram, dry ginger, pepper, thulasi , mint and karupatti.