The latest New York Times magazine has a fascinating article on the founder and bossman of Saravana Bhavan. It is the most revealing profile to date of the reclusive P Rajagopal, who created the world’s largest chains of vegetarian restaurants—33 in
India, another 47 abroad. The writer was invited to Chennai to meet the legendary Rajagopal and interviewed him extensively, including about the murder charge that sent him to jail. The article is a intriguing insight into the Saravana empire—his business model and the secret behind the fierce loyalty he commands among his workers (they enjoy benefits equal to American IT companies; free health care, housing allowances, pensions, TVs, education and marriage funds for their daughters). The article also reveals a lot about Saravana’s global ambitions, next outlet will be in Hong Kong, followed by Sydney, Australia and then, a luxury hotel!
The business model is simple; keep workers happy to gain a positive environment and loyalty, ensure everything served is fresh, and, abroad, open a restaurant in every city with a large expat Indian population and import skilled chefs to ensure that the food tastes the way it does back home.One of the more interesting nuggets in the article is that the biggest expansion took place while Rajagopal was in jail, charged with murder (the case is pending in the Supreme Court). Rajagopal in the interview says that there was a reason for his imprisonment—“God wanted to give an opportunity for my son Saravanan to learn business.” It is clear he has a sense of humour. “I believe in Gandhi,” he remarks. When the journalist asks him what he admired most about Gandhi, he quips: “I like that he had a girl on each arm. Having girls around keeps a guy young forever.”