The Real Life MBA – How Matunga’s famous South Indian restaurant, Cafe Madras is run

The Real Life MBA is a series that we have launched in an endeavour to enable students to get a real life exposure about the technicalities and practicalities of running a full-fledged business. We meet owners of some iconic local businesses who have flourished over the decades.

Café Madras is a well-known three-generation old restaurant in Matunga, Mumbai which specialises in South Indian food. It was started the way most Udipi joints in Mumbai have. The owners migrated to Mumbai and set up the restaurant and then sent word back home for young men looking for employment and a place to stay in Mumbai. These men were offered jobs as waiters, chefs and delivery boys and given a place to stay, along with good meals and decent money to send back home.

We visited it at around 6pm and it was crowded. However we managed to find an empty table and the first thing that caught our eye was a wall covered with certificates that this restaurant has won for itself.

 

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It is currently run by two brothers, Mr Dev and Mr Jay Prakash but was initially setup in 1940 by their grandfather.

What makes the food different than the others lies in its recipe. “We have made our own recipes, nothing is textbook”, said Mr Dev. The home-made butter is the key differentiating factor for the patrons. Unlike most other restaurants in the vicinity, Cafe Madras offers the option to top any of your food with its home-made white butter, which has quite a following among regulars and is often preferred over Amul butter

They are using e-commerce to cater to a niche segment. They have tied up with selective delivery players in the market who deliver their packed products like masalas, snacks, coffee powder etc. to customers. They are also going to start their own website to deliver their products across the globe. Since the delivery chain has made delivering products so easy, it is easier for them to serve customers across the globe.

But what is their product strategy? Their product strategy was to always serve their customers with good food which was the only strategy that was employed from its inception. “When you are in a food business that’s what you do”, says Mr Dev.

 

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The owners manage the staffing process as well. The cooks and the staff that are hired also undergo training by the owners themselves. “It is basic management. You give them good working hours, don’t make life miserable for them, pay them a good salary – basically strike a balance” and that’s how you will be able to manage them. “You need to feel the undercurrents” and incentivise your staff to keep them happy.

That sounds like a good strategy but how do they manage to deal with tough situations like attrition? “We have to manage it. You have to have the conviction and you can manage these issues. There is no formula. It depends on the situation. Any business is like climbing a mountain – you don’t know which step you are going to take next. You don’t know all the rocks that you are going to face. But you have to take that step and face it. You need to face new challenges everyday”.

 

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How does he manage to market his business? Word of mouth is the answer. “It takes time but is completely up to you. It is your own so you yourself can give it direction.” So what is his vision for Madras Café? “Well, we want good food to reach out to people. And if good food is not reaching them then my goal is lost.”

As there are 12 other south Indian restaurants in a span of 1 km, we asked him how he views the competition. He said, “It’s healthy. But as long as we remain ourselves, we can be different from the competition”.

When asked why they haven’t expanded yet, he replied, “We hope to expand someday but it all depends on your goals. It depends on what you want to do and how you want to take it forward. Work comes first but you cannot overload yourself because it’s not fair to or your family. You need to understand that work is commitment and whenever you take a decision you should be aware of what you’re getting into.”

His father has always advised him to “Do everything with a clean heart. Don’t do something that you don’t approve of yourself. That’s the way to go about it.” His advice to MBA students is to get completely involved in what they are doing. Do not fear failure. Set a vision and follow it and learn as you go along.

Learnings:

1. Delivery chain enables a business to act local and think global.

2. A food business can survive only if it provides best quality food to its customers or else competition will kill it.

3. In the service industry, keeping your employees happy will directly result in happy customers as it will reflect in the performance of the employees.

4. There is no formula for a successful business. It is an art which you master with conviction.

5. Work is important but family comes first.

6. The fundamental purpose of a business is its vision and it’s upon the owner to carry it forward.

 

 

As told to Edgar Stephens

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Read more stories about The Real Life MBA here.

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Comments

5 comments

abhishek1234

You guys have started a wonderful series. Taking lessons from real life small and medium business helps. Cheers to your initiative.

Edgar Stephens

Thanks guys, please share the stories on your social media accounts so that more people can read and benefit. – Team InsideIIM