How a garbage storeroom morphed into an eatery

The café and (below) S.Saravanan. Photos: Special Arrangement  

If you are on Chennai-Thiruvallur High Road, look out for Srivari Café outside Kochar Panchsheel Apartment in Ambattur Industrial Estate. Nothing fanciful about this café, but S. Saravanan promises to delight you with freshly-brewed coffee and his story of hope and resilience.

Saravanan was heading South India operations of a major brand until lockdown forced the organisation to close down certain divisions. With his 18 years of corporate experience, Saravanan got ready to start his own business.

“The idea of venturing into the food business was always there in my mind but I was not confident of taking the plunge; the lockdown was an opportunity for me to give it a shot,” says Saravanan.

His biggest advantage was finding a space to run the café from the comfort of his apartment, Kochar Panchsheel, where he is a resident for the last three years. A 100 sq. ft. space belonging to the apartment association was being used as space to keep waste before it was disposed of.

“It is outside the gated community but belongs to the Association so that came as an advantage as we could draw people from inside the community as well as outside,” says Saravanan.

How a garbage storeroom morphed into an eatery

The Association was happy to rent it out at a fee as the room was used to dump the garbage collected from every household. After solid waste management was introduced in the society, we were less dependent on this room.

“Getting the Association’s consent to use this space came as a timely help. Next, I got the space refurbished and spent close to ₹3.5 lakh replacing its tiles, undertaking patchwork on the walls and carrying out other works,” he says.

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Running the outlet, however, was not a cake walk for this sales executive. Srivari Café opened in August by selling coffee and tea but it was running at a loss for close to a month. So, he added tiffin varieties to the menu but as Saravanan was outsourcing the production there were many challenges along the way.

“I hired a person who was without work as the school canteen he was working at was not operating. Things did not go as expected that I even thought if I should give up on this initiative,” he says.

The pricing of items seemed to contribute to the poor sales.

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“I was selling a plate of two idli at ₹20 and that was a bit high for auto rickshaw drives and others looking for a quick bite, so I had to rework the rate chart,” he says, adding that he did not compromise on the quality of food.

After a short lull, Saravanan hired a new cook. “Serving breakfast as well as coffee/tea has started drawing customers, both from the society and outside,” he says. Many are repeat customers and that includes floating in and out of the locality and those employed at the companies on the stretch.

Saravanan is happy with the little progress he is making in the business. Ask him if he plans to return to the corporate world once the economy bounces back, Saravanan says, the satisfaction that he has got in the last couple of months is more than want he earned in the last 18 years.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 5:58:32 AM |

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