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Inspiring: From Sleeping Empty Stomach To Feeding Millions Through His Chain Of Restaurants

Determination is a personality trait that has the power to change one’s future. If coupled with hard work, it can do wonders and one can achieve what once seemed impossible. There is no denying the fact that hard work pays off if one is consistent and works with integrity.

Similar is the story of Narayan Pujari, a small-town boy, who was born with a star-like vision. Native of Kundapur, a town in Karnataka, Narayan had a dream of opening his restaurant since he was little. His conviction was contagious and the dream of doing something extraordinary pushed him to another orbit.

It was like a movie story when this son of a farmer, 13-year-old Narayan moved to Mumbai dreaming of mesmerising everyone by his victorious journey to the top. With the ambition and vigour of a teenager, everything seemed attainable for him. However, the blow of life was stronger than he expected.

When reality hit hard, Narayan realized that he had no clue of how the industry worked. While his father was toiling in the fields to feed the family, Narayan, in Mumbai, slept empty stomach with sparkles in his eyes.

For a young boy, he didn’t know which path to tread on to sustain in one of the most expensive cities of the world. He did not have any skill that might have kept him going. Fortunately, he was rich in one thing, and that was determination.

Narayan’s financial and emotional condition left him with two options. He could either go back to his town and support his father, or stay in Mumbai and toil his way to success. His passion about the restaurant industry guided him to choose the undiscovered path and he started working in restaurants. The thing that kept him going was that he had nothing to lose and everything he gained got him a step closer to realize his dreams.

“I was always stubborn and stern to follow my dreams. I realized that nothing in life comes easy and if you want to achieve something you have to erase the word ‘quitting’ from your dictionary,” he tells KenFolios.

To ease the struggle, Narayan started out on the quest of finding a job for himself. His interest in restaurant business magnetized him and somehow he bagged job of waiter in a restaurant. He would run errands, wipe tables, and survive on meagre salary he got. Meanwhile, Narayan pledged that he would not quit studying. Thus, he joined a night school and juggled between school and job.

He took this as a blessing that he was able to sustain his stay in Mumbai and decided to make the most of it.

“To build my knowledge and experience I worked in various canteens. I also worked as a waiter at Mahesh Lunch Home. With these jobs, I got the opportunity to try out their food and learn a lot about flavours, spices, and what goes into good cooking,” Narayan says with palpable nostalgia.

While most of his friends were comfortable at home under the shelter of their parents, Narayan slogged 18-20 hours a day studying and working. This tough phase made him mature at a young age as he gained experience of the restaurant business. Narayan was his biggest supporter.

“To keep going I would always tell myself that one day, I will work at my own restaurant and create a successful brand for it. I had to be my biggest supporter,” Narayan says.

When he was ready to start his own restaurant, he went to his Godfather as he didn’t have the initial capital. His Godfather funded Narayan to open his first restaurant named Shiv Sagar, near Kemps Corner, followed by Churchgate, in 1990. Narayan spent sleepless nights worrying about the response he would get on his outlet. For him, this was his dearest dream and he had covered a long distance to reach here. There was no way he was going to give up now.

He worked on his mantra to gain customers to serve healthy and delicious food to them in order to ensure they turned into routine customers. As he wanted to connect to his customers, he would take their feedback and act upon it. As the business grew, Shiv Sagar chain of restaurants introduced a new delicacy ‘Jain Sambhar’ which became quite popular in Gujrati, Jain, and Marwari community. However, it wasn’t all rosy and he had his own share of struggles.

“There were plenty of roadblocks that I faced in the beginning of my career. Adapting to the ever-evolving food scene and managing to come with new cuisine and match the taste of Indians was challenging. But the best part was to learn, adapt and overcome with each obstacle you face. The struggle was there at every stage but when you dream big the problems come in plenty. You always manage to come up with a solution by giving your best,” he says.

The turning point of the business came after the blast of 1993. Before this, restaurants kept openall-night long but after this incident they had to shut by midnight. This was the period when the business suffered the most. It was his conviction that sailed the storm and emerged victorious to set another milestone of success for Shiv Sagar.

Currently, Shiv Sagar has an employee base of 250. Chiefly functioning from Mumbai, the restaurant has 16 outlets in India in Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Mangalore. Narayan is thinking of expanding and taking the business to a whole new level.

To put Narayan’s journey in a quote by Bill Gates –

‘If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake.’

Narayan, who is grounded and hasn’t forgotten his roots, is flourishing in leaps and bounds with his parents still working as farmers. This is where he is from and takes pride in his origin from where he has evolved.

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