Story of this man from a small village named Karkala in Udupi, Karnataka sounds just like a movie script from the 80s. He is purely a self-made businessman who had only his gut feeling to guide him. He single-handedly made the butter chicken-eating north Indians grab dosas and idlis. But his journey began at the doorsteps of fear and cruelty.
Jayaram Banan was growing up in a home where getting brutally beaten up for the smallest of things was an everyday matter. When angry, his father put chili powder in his eyes to punish him. This was extremely barbaric and damaging to a child who was completely dependent on his family. The little Jayaram failed in school when he was 13-year-old. He knew he would be beaten black and blue if his father found out.
To escape the horrible punishment, he stole some money from his father’s wallet and decided to run away from the place forever. He boarded a bus to Mumbai with no plan in his head. He knew that a lot of people from and around his village go to Mumbai for a better future. A co-passenger in the bus found him and offered him a work at a private canteen. He knew no better so accepted the offer.
When he started washing dishes in a Panvel canteen, he realised how tough life could be. He worked for hours and still got beaten by chappal by his employer. “It made me work harder,” Jayaram says. He put more efforts and became a waiter, then the manager. He got a lot of experience on the way but was clear that he did not want to do naukri all his life.
By this time, many south Indian eateries had opened in Mumbai and Jayaram did not want to jump in an overcrowded market. He thought Delhi was a better place to begin his experimentation. Back then, authentic dosas were very expensive and this became the motivation for Jayaram.
I wanted to provide best quality dosas at halwai rates
Luck favoured his intentions and a shop shut down in Defence Colony market. In 1986, he opened his first shop in the area and earned only Rs 470 on the first day. But his attention on the menu and eagerness to serve customers worked magic. By the second week, people stood in queues and waited for Sagar’s food.
Nobody thought south-Indian, vegetarian food could do so well among the naan and chicken eating Delhi wallahs. Jayaram claims to serve the best sambar in the town and is equally caring about his staff members. The great leap came after four years when he opened his store in the upscale Lodhi Hotel where he served the same menu but at 20% higher cost. This is when he added ‘Ratna’ to Sagar.
His dedication shows by the fact even today he does not eat at his restaurants because he believes it is a place where he serves people. Sagar Ratna now has over 30 branches in north India and has expanded to North America, Canada, Bangkok and even Singapore!
Despite his growing business, people teased him for serving tiffin-like food. To give a fitting reply to his haters, he launched Swagath which served coastal food in its menu. This too met with a huge success and became an instant hit among the people.
Even today, Jayaram leaves his home at 9 am and comes only late at night after visiting as many outlets of Sagar Ratna. He is known to be very particular about cleanliness and does not tolerate even one fly his kitchens.
The boy who ran away from home at the age of 13 with very little education today owns a highly popular brand in India and abroad. We believe that luck had little part to play in his success story and his one-pointed focus, hours of continuous hardwork and courage to keep going on made him the man he is today.