A tale of culinary triumph

Post the launch of the new branch of Manoj Bhavan at a sixth location in the city, managing director Muthamizhan talks about starting a business in the industry and what makes them click
The new branch of Manoj Bhavan in KK Nagar
The new branch of Manoj Bhavan in KK Nagar

CHENNAI: The restaurant scene in Namma Chennai is currently in a flux, with both established restaurateurs and street vendors alike adapting to new challenges. Coming up with new marketing strategies and designing menus that are both visually appealing and tantalisingly flavourful, while maintaining quality at nominal prices, are some of the prerequisites that have become the new frontier for these entrepreneurs. Among them stands Manoj Bhavan, a revered name in Chennai’s vegetarian dining landscape. Having recently opened their new outlet in KK Nagar, this restaurant chain now has outlets at six thriving locations across the city, an ode to their seasoned approach to overcoming industry hurdles effortlessly.

Renowned for their diverse range of South Indian cuisines, sweets, and savouries, a husband-wife duo breathes life into the story of Manoj Bhavan. Durgalakshmi spearheads the delectable sweets and savoury offerings, while Muthamizhan oversees the seamless operations of the restaurant section. In an exclusive conversation with CE, Muthamizhan, the managing director of the restaurant, reflects on their journey from modest origins to culinary prominence at present. He highlights their unwavering dedication to authenticity and inventive flair, shaping a fine dining experience that blends traditional flavours with a modern twist for the creativity-seeking food enthusiasts of the city.

Excerpts follow:

What inspired the inception of Manoj Bhavan restaurants?

Since a young age, I’ve always been a foodie. I had a passion for trying different kinds of food, but there weren’t many places nearby where I could do that. I used to search for places, pick one, and explore it. This habit sparked my interest in the food industry. In 2013, I decided to turn my passion into a business, and in 2016, I launched my first outlet in Maduranthakam.

In your journey as a restaurateur, were there specific challenges? What strategies did you employ to overcome them?

COVID-19 was one of the biggest challenges I faced in the early stages of my business development. It created a panic situation, but fortunately, some government bodies approached us to provide meals. They ended up ordering around 2,000 meals a day, which was incredibly helpful for us during that difficult period.

Being in this field for quite a few years now, what do you consider to be your key strengths that have enabled you to successfully navigate and lead your business?

I always quote that our manpower and service are our greatest strengths. My very first employee, who joined me when I launched my initial outlet, is still with me, and their loyalty is a testament to our strength. My team trusts me, and I make it a priority to take care of them and provide for their needs. When it comes to services, we strive to offer our customers the best dining experiences by often paying close attention to their personal preferences and ensuring their satisfaction.

Where do you source your ingredients from? Do you place any special emphasis on local or organic produce?

We have carefully selected a group of excellent vendors who supply us with high-quality raw materials. In addition to these vendors, we also source some ingredients directly from the producers.

We place a strong emphasis on using organic produce, particularly given the competitive nature of the market. To ensure the highest standards, we personally visited and assessed the quality of these vendors and produces before making any purchasing decisions. This rigorous selection process helps us maintain the exceptional quality our customers expect from us.

Walk us through your menu. What are some of the signature dishes of Manoj Bhavan?

Our menu primarily focuses on South Indian dishes, but we also offer a variety of additional options, including tandoor, Chinese, chaat items, and more.

One of our exclusive dishes is the ghee ven pongal, and apart from this, our coffee has always been a big hit. Recently, we have started serving coffee from 5.30 am until late at our Ashok Nagar outlet. Also, this outlet became especially popular when we introduced mini tiffin, which includes an idli, pongal, mini masala dosa or poori, one sweet, and a mini coffee. Customers from all over Chennai started coming here for breakfast to enjoy this offering.

When it comes to sweets, our moti ladoo, rasmalai, and paneer jamun consistently win the hearts of our customers.

Are there any future plans for expansion?

Currently, we have limited the plans of expansion only to Chennai, especially in areas where the geographical demand is high, and currently, in the pipeline, works for three to four outlets are going on. Apart from this, we have been receiving calls for expansion from overseas, and hopefully, in two or three years, we will launch our outlets abroad.

What makes your restaurant stand out from the rest of its competitors?

At Manoj Bhavan, we prioritise serving our cuisine with authentic taste and ensuring that each dish is prepared to perfection. Our commitment goes beyond profitability; it’s about ensuring customer satisfaction. Personally, I uphold certain ethics and values that often guide the proper and respectful operation of our business.

A piece of valuable advice to aspiring restaurateurs.

One piece of advice I would give is to avoid entering this business simply because you’ve seen others succeed.

Do it only if you are genuinely passionate about starting a restaurant. Also, if you see an outlet gaining recognition in a certain area, don’t just set up your restaurant next to it. Instead, conduct a thorough study of an area where you feel confident, followed by in-depth research on the menu you want to create and the appropriate pricing. By doing so, your restaurant will stand out and have a better chance of becoming established.

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