“Only the name has changed. Everything else remains the same,” Murali N Bhat stresses repeatedly through our conversation. He also has boards placed at vantage points in his restaurants stating the same. The restaurants in question are five franchisee outlets of popular Chennai-based food chain Sangeetha Veg Restaurant, which have now been rebranded Geetham.
Over a dry fruit falooda, which the 53-year-old describes among the restaurant’s best-sellers, Murali who is Geetham’s managing director, says, “We have a loyal customer base, for whom the ambience and taste will be the same.” The Sangeetha restaurants in Navalur, Thoraipakkam, T Nagar, Medavakkam and 100 Feet Road (Velachery) are now Geetham — they account for about ₹110 crore turnover of the brand’s ₹250 crore business. “In the food business, every day is a new day. You cannot have an off day at any point of time, because that means that you have lost an entire family of customers,” says Murali.
So, he is trying innovation to expand his vision. There are going to be 12 more dosa varieties on offer — including Mysore masala dosa and paneer masala dosa — in the outlets, which currently have more than 400 South Indian, North Indian and Chinese dishes on their 36 page menu. They are also focussing on specialities like honey chilli gobi and paneer roll masala so “there is something for everyone in the family,” says Murali.
Every Friday, for instance, there is vazhathandu kootu for lunch, a dish that is not easily available in most restaurants. Murali has a tie-up with a farmers collective in Tirunelveli, which packs and supplies all the ingredients. “When I directly deal with farmers, it’s win-win for both parties. We are also currently sourcing greens from a farmer in Madurantakam.”
Murali says he has been involved in the business of food since his second year of college; his father, in fact, ran a ragi malt production unit. “I wanted to contest in college elections and needed money for it, and so I got into business,” says Murali, saying he started by selling products like Mangharam Wafers. Later, in Coimbatore, he was associated with J&M Sons Cake Shop, a bakery then popular for Japanese cakes and puffs.
His association with Sangeetha Veg Restaurants has now ended, after about 13 years. “It has been a great journey,” he says, describing the 14,000-square feet format outlet in Velachery. “Though the first year was a struggle, we chanced upon a great campaign. During that time T-20 cricket and IPL were catching on like fire. We introduced a Tiffen20 concept in Velachery, a mini-tiffin for just ₹20 that became a huge hit.”
“Vegetarian food has a market throughout the year, every day,” says Murali, adding that the job comes with both perks and challenges. “Every five hours, people have to eat something,” so a good restaurant will always draw customers. But, he adds, “There’s no holiday in the food business.” Especially with 400 items, and expanding menu.