Rajagopal who revolutionised restaurant biz, leaves a message in death

Chennai: From Parry’s Corner to Paris, the sambar of Hotel Saravana Bhavan (HSB) would taste the same. Not just sambar, any other dish of HSB would, for that matter.

In this age of FSSAI, ISO and Six Sigma to define quality, Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels pioneered it more than three decades back. And, the brain and biceps behind it was P Rajagopal, who breathed his last at a private hospital in Chennai this morning, after a prolonged legal and health battle.

Rajagopal’s is a rags to riches story, or racks to riches story, to be more precise. After coming to Chennai from Thoothukudi in search of greener pastures, ‘Annachi’ initially started a maligai kadai in K K Nagar.

Then, based on the advice of an astrologer, he ventured into food business by opening a small hotel in the same neighbourhood. And, the rest, as they don’t say, is case study for every budding entrepreneur.

At a time when Chennaiites, especially those from the middle-class, did not have hotel-going habit, Annachi made them develop one thanks to the terrific taste and uncompromised quality and variety of dishes served by his restaurants.

His HSB chain, perhaps the first of its kind in the country, witnessed steady growth and spread its wings across the world. If there is a good number of Tamils in any part of the globe, there will be a Saravana Bhavan hotel for sure.

The way Annachi treated his employees is something any HR expert of international repute could not have imagined. He was there with them whenever they needed help – hospital expenses, education of their children, wedding of their wards – and the list goes on.

At the same time, he was a taskmaster who brought out the best from his staff every day and every time. And he did all these things even without completing school education. Entrepreneurship at its native brilliance, we should say. A staunch spiritualist, Rajagopal was a philanthropist, too.

One wrong step of his might have made him fall from grace, but Rajagopal will always be remembered as the ‘Raja’ of hotel business. Adieu, Annachi.

M Bhaskar Sai