The 1950s were a period of change for India. Having just attained independence from the British, people were still getting used to streets which weren’t littered with patrolling Englishmen in uniforms. What had been the norm for the better part of two centuries was slowly being ushered out to bring in a new era of democracy. Farming was slowly regaining its foothold as the foundation of the still-stumbling economy. In the small town of Dindigul, Mr. Nagasamy Naidu thought it was the right time to allow outsiders to try what he felt was a flagship dish in the making – his wife’s Biriyani. A dish so wonderfully delicious that he just couldn’t keep it to himself. He knew that her creation was a thing of beauty that deserved all the accolades it could garner. And so it began. A 4-seater joint to go along with his betel nut shop was how it all started. 4 seats and biriyani recipe for the ages was all it took for them to change the world around them. Little did Mr. and Mrs. Naidu know back then, but those very seats and that very recipe would be the key ingredients in a global force some half a century down the line.
For about 4 decades the family-owned business never made its way out of Dindigul. It did however gather the folk from towns all around in search of this unique experience that they just had to have their palettes taste. As the crowds gathered en masse, and word of mouth spread across the land, maybe it was time for the family-owned business to grow beyond their more-than-just 4-seat restaurant. The 90s brought in another era of significant change in not only the Indian economy, but the fledgling franchise too. They tried their hand at opening not one but two outlets at cities much bigger than their humble beginnings in Dindigul.
First, it was Coimbatore – the Pump City. It was industrialized a long time ago and hence has a prevalent business community. It still retains (in a limited extent now) a sense of small town with the benefits of a larger city. Then, it was Bangalore – the Garden City. A metropolitan area termed as the Silicon Valley of India, known for budding businesses to go on and thrive in a competitive environment. The dream was big, and the franchise still budding. However, neither lasted too long, as they may have just been ahead of their time. Nobody has ever tasted success without some sort of setback, after all.
The start of a new millennium saw only the outlet in Dindigul for the majority of its first decade. However, in 2008, Nagasamy Dhanapalan, Mr. Naidu’s grandson, was forced to return to India to tend to his ailing father. He had held a job in the United Kingdom and once the dust had settled, tasted the biriyani that his family was known for in the local circuit. He knew he had struck gold. The entrepreneur in him knew that he just had to take this outside the confines of the small town of Dindigul. This time it wasn’t a city close to the western border, no, it was the capital of his home state – Chennai.
The Gateway of South India was the perfect place for the franchise to finally gain a firm foothold before shooting for the stars. A locale not unbeknownst to the entrepreneur, the Auto Hub of India turned out to be the ideal location for him to relaunch this still-budding franchise to newer heights. However, not everybody could quite grasp the full extent of the bigger picture he had in his mind. He was met with some resistance during the initial days. Most of which was hailing from a pre-existing notion that the urban locale of Chennai would not take to the rural, unique flavor of the Thalappakatti biriyani. That the palette of the inhabitants of this major city, much like the ones in Bangalore about a decade earlier, would not accept a biriyani which was made not from the famed Basmati rice that has graced Lucknawi,Hyderabadi, and Kolkata biriyanis which were the flavor of the time in Chennai.
Mr. Dhanapalan did not relent, though. Refusing to accept defeat despite everybody around him, and even history telling him that this may not work out the way he thought. He kept on, and never stopped believing. He had a vision in his head that the recipe of his grandmother can become the flagship dish that sends this brand soaring amongst the greatest ever.
He wanted to follow a similar trajectory to another global restaurant chain – albeit of a different cuisine – Kentucky Fried Chicken. Just as the face of Colonel Sanders adornes the logo of the brand of KFC, Thalappakatti now has the face of the ‘thalappa’-clad Nagasamy Naidu on their logo. The brand was there, and so was the star product. All that was missing was the actual foothold in the Detroit of South India.
For this, he didn’t have to look too far onto distant shores, at all. There was a precedent of smaller restaurant going on to become well-established staples in the food industry. He learned from the likes of Saravana Bhavan and Adyar Ananda Bhavan. He had the humility to grasp from the experience of these giants. The manner in which they had scaled up was second to none. The blueprint was now there. The brand, the star product, and now the blueprint. Greatness awaited.
He wasn’t to leave behind his roots as he was going places, though, as he recruited members of his own family to keep the business within the bloodline as they scaled upward. He also liked to employ well-educated folk. He believed that his employees should be more knowledgeable than he, which is an admirable trait to have. With the very characteristics that could be used to define legacies, the brand started to gain momentum on a large scale. Today, the brand is a staple for biriyani lovers everywhere, and has become almost synonymous with the dish adored by millions within the country. A tale that has to be told.