Sun. Sep 20th, 2020

The Intellectual Indian

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How a Street Food Vendor in Chennai Became the Owner of a Restaurant Chain

5 min read

A child who was taunted at school for making parottas at his father’s roadside eateries worked hard to change the circumstances of his life and today owns a restaurant chain, whose annual turnover has touched Rs 18 crore in just two years.

From a street food vendor to becoming a chef in a five star hotel at Grand Cayman Island and to returning to Chennai to start a chain of restaurants, it’s been an incredible journey for Suresh Chinnasamy, whose story can inspire any person who wants to beat the odds and come up in life.

Huge crowds comprising of construction workers and daily wagers flocked to their Adyar outlet during lunch hours and business picked up.

“I started helping my father when I was around 12. I and my brother, who is three years elder to me, assisted in preparing the food and washing the dishes,” says Suresh, who was then a student of Olcott Memorial School, where he received free education and mid-day meals.

However, he stopped attending school when the family shifted to Dindigul when he was around 13 years old. His father got back to farming in their village Periyakottai and also opened a small eatery in the nearby town of Palani.

Suresh worked at the eatery with his father, while his brother stayed in the village tending the crops and attending the local school. However, the family did not get the expected returns from farming and decided to return to Chennai after two years.

In Chennai, they rented a space in Sreenivasapuram on East Coast Road and resumed their food business. When Suresh volunteered to set up a separate food cart about 100 metres away from his father’s outlet and started selling idliesdosas, and poories he was just 15.

“I was soon selling more than my father. If he made Rs 200 daily, I sold for around Rs 250. Later, I offered lunch and we added another cart next to mine. My mother took care of it and for the first time we started employing people,” says Suresh.

His life took a dramatic turn when he listened to the advice of an elderly customer and joined a tutorial to prepare for appearing as a private candidate for Class 10 board exams.

Studying between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. daily after returning from work, he passed the exam with 37 per cent marks and joined Arignar Anna Government Higher Secondary School in Besant Nagar where he studied up to Class 12.

At school, his classmates mocked him. “They called me ‘parottakara payan’ (parotta making boy), but I wasn’t worried about their comments or ashamed of my work. It only motivated me to work harder and take my family to a better status,” says Suresh, who continued the food cart business after school hours.

After passing Class 12, he joined BA Corporate Secretaryship evening course at D.B. Jain College in Thoraipakkam in 1997 and the following year enrolled for a diploma in hotel management at Madras Institute of Hotel Management, Porur.

“By now we were making reasonable money from our business, and I realised that the only way to go to the next level was through education and began to focus on my studies.

“I attended catering classes from morning till 3 p.m. after which I worked at Hotel Savera in the kitchen until around midnight to gain practical knowledge and experience with the permission of the institute,” says Suresh.

He didn’t attend evening college regularly, but appeared for the exams and managed to get the degree. Later, he did his MBA (Marketing) – between 2001 and 2003 – through correspondence from Alagappa University.

In 2001, Suresh took the crucial decision to join a cruise ship as cook and with this aim joined a one-month course offered by Indus Hospitality Careers and Training in Chennai. The next year he attended an interview in Mumbai and got his dream job at Carnival Cruise Line, one of the biggest cruise ships in the world.

A neighbour offered his jewels to mortgage and Suresh’s family raised Rs 1 lakh, the amount he needed to travel to Miami to report for work. The family had a debt of around Rs 3 lakh by this time, but he would clear the entire debt in a matter of few months.

“I joined as an assistant cook in the ship for a salary of USD 500, but to earn more I took a part-time job of housekeeping that gave me an extra USD 600 each month. I cleaned rooms, toilets and made the beds.

“Every year I received a promotion and by the fifth year when I left the ship I was in the rank of a chef and earning around USD 2,000, including the tips,” says Suresh, as he recounts his rags to riches journey from the comforts of his recently opened Vadapalani outlet.

From Carnival, he made a jump to Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, where he set up a bar and restaurant for a Jamaican and seven months later joined Ritz Carlton, a premier hotel in the island.

“I worked at Carlton until 2013 as chef. In this period my earnings went up to Rs 4 to 5 lakh per month. I also brought my wife Divya who joined as a coordinator in the spa and she was earning around Rs 3 lakh per month,” shares Suresh, who married Divya in 2008 at Chennai and found a job for her in the ship the same year.

“It was a love marriage. I knew Divya when I was working at Savera,” he reveals.

The couple returned to Chennai in 2013 with good savings. Suresh joined a restaurant chain in Chennai as a chef for about two years and helped in building the brand.

He decided to start his chain of restaurants in 2016 and launched a 10,000 sq ft food court at Spectrum Mall in Perambur with an investment of Rs 1.8 crore.

Spurred by its success, he established five more restaurants in the next few months – including one in Thanjavur and another in Vikravandi – pumping in additional Rs 3 crore into the various projects. All the properties have a banquet hall and rooms for guests to stay and they bring in extra revenue to the company.

“I invest my own money and reinvest the profits from my hotels into new ventures. I borrow from private investors when there is a shortfall and return the money from profits.

“Our turnover for FY 2017-18 is around Rs 18 crore. My hotels are running on profit and I share 25 per cent of the profit each month with my employees. It makes them happy and all of them are willing to walk the extra mile to make the business more profitable,” says Suresh, who has registered his company as a proprietorship and currently employs around 400 people.

His restaurants have earned a reputation for tasty non-vegetarian food and Suresh is keen on capitalising on the goodwill of his customers. At the Vadapalani outlet, he has introduced an innovative tariff of Rs 99 for every dish to woo the crowds.

His brother is doing well as a software engineer in the US. His parents oversee the cooking at their centralised kitchen at Guindy and visit the unit at least thrice a week.

“My vision is to play big and I am trying everything to achieve growth,” says Suresh, whose wife is now teaching yoga and music to children and spending quality time with their 6-year-old son Surya.

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