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You Can Take Away Success Tips from This Former Waiter Who Now Owns a Popular Restaurant Chain in Mumbai

Deven Lad| Mumbai 07 Dec 2017, Vol 8 Issue 49

A 13-year-old boy who always dreamt of coming to Mumbai came to his dream city and became very successful… a movie plot? Nah, this is the real life story of Narayan Poojari, the man behind the iconic Mumbai restaurant chain Shiv Sagar.

Shiv Sagar is Mumbai’s best known vegetarian restaurant brand with 16 branches across the city. Started in 1990, Narayan’s company Shiv Sagar Foods and Resorts Pvt Ltd crossed an annual turnover of Rs 20 crore this year.

After working in a canteen as a waiter for a couple of years, Narayan Poojari started his first 20-seater canteen at Cuff Parade and has not looked back since (By Special Arrangement)

It all started with a small ice cream parlour in Mumbai’s Kemps Corner.

Born in Kundapura, Karnataka, in 1967, Narayan was always attracted to Mumbai. People from his village who lived and worked in Mumbai told him stories about it and he dreamt of visiting the city at least once in his life.

Living in a middle-class joint family that was dependant on farming, Narayan’s dream was at odds with his reality. However, in 1980, at age 13, he abruptly decided to quit school and leave for Mumbai.

"I was in Class five when I told my family that I wanted to work in Mumbai,” he recalls, “I was the eldest son of six siblings so I decided it was time for me to work.”

In April that year, his maternal grandmother gave him Rs 30 and he took a private tour bus and arrived in Mumbai. He had a place to stay: his father's sister lived in Santacruz in Mumbai.

With the help of a relative, Narayan got a waiter’s job in an office canteen at Ballard Estate in South Mumbai.

“My relative who recommended me for this job had made sure the canteen owner allows me to study in a night school, as they didn’t want me to drop out of school,” Narayan shares.

“I used to get a salary of Rs 40 and work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., then after attending the night school I used to sleep in the canteen itself as my aunt’s place was too far to commute daily. I used to play football and cricket with other boys on Saturday and Sunday, which were my off days.”

Narayan got a good break in 1990 when he was asked to run an ice cream shop called Shiv Sagar on a profit sharing basis. He later became the owner of the brand

Narayan went to Mother India Free Night High School in Bora Bazaar in Mumbai. In a few months, he left his first job and started working in the PWD office’s canteen.

He worked there for two years, till he was in the class 10, which is when he got the opportunity to start his own 20-seater canteen at Cuff Parade with an investment of Rs 25,000.

“While running that canteen I learnt the management part of the business,” says Narayan. “I understood how to run a restaurant.”

Studies fell by the wayside for Narayan though he did manage to pass class 12 from the night school. For a few years, he ran that canteen and worked for Mahesh Lunch Home restaurant’s owner Suru Karkera too.

Then in 1990, his life took a new turn and changed forever. A man called Baghubhai Patel asked Narayan to run his ice cream shop called Shiv Sagar at Kemps Corner in South Mumbai as he was not able to operate it well.

Narayan took a partnership in the shop with an arrangement that he would take 25 per cent of the profit and 75 per cent would go to Baghubhai.

“The shop was big enough and it was also doing good business, so I added pao-bhaji as an item to the same shop and people started liking that,” he recalls. “Soon we became a full-fledged vegetarian food restaurant; most of our customers were Gujarati.”

He decided to open a branch at Churchgate. Earlier the annual turnover was just Rs 3 lakh but after Narayan took over the business, in just one year it reached Rs 1 crore.

Shiv Sagar has 16 branches in Mumbai. Narayan also has 50 per cent stakes in Mahesh Lunch Home, a non-vegetarian chain

“My life changed suddenly,” says Narayan, “I became rich.”

The period between 1990 and 1994 was of great significance for him. He bought the larger share of Shiv Sagar, and though Mr Patel still has a stake in the company, Narayan became the sole owner. He worked for 16 hours a day to launch the new branch at Churchgate. He also got married in 1994.

"Those four years were important for me as my dream to expand Shiv Sagar was coming true and my wife also helped me run the business – she is now one of the directors of my company,” says Narayan.

Today, they have 16 branches in the city and suburbs of Mumbai, and he has also invested 50 per cent in Mahesh Lunch Home (MLH) for his father-figure Suru Karkera, founder of MLH.

"Shiv Sagar is a pure vegetarian brand and Mahesh Lunch Home is the non-vegetarian brand so I have balanced both,” says Narayan. “Mr Karkera is like a godfather to me, so MLH was like a family business.”

Today Shiv Sagar is a big vegetarian brand, trusted by everyone for quality and service.

“My focus is always on taste of food,” shares Narayan. “We have professional, corporate, chefs to serve quality food and there are many celebrities who like food from Shiv Sagar, like Sachin Tendulkar orders the pao-bhaji special, Jackie Shroff likes the idlis and chutney, and the Mumbai Ranji team comes and eats at the Churchgate Shiv Sagar…”

Narayan's day still starts at 6.30 a.m. like the early days when he was a waiter at a canteen, but now his schedule has changed. He works out and then leaves around 9.30 for a round of his restaurants – he arrives randomly at any of his restaurants.

"The Kemps Corner and Churchgate branches will always have a special place in my heart,” reveals Narayan, “and that is where I usually sit but I do random visits at all restaurants to keep an eye. It also helps me keep in touch with the clients and keep adapting to their changing tastes.”

Narayan with daughter Nikita, who has opened Fish and Bait, a non-vegetarian restaurant at Bandra Kurla Complex

Narayan has two daughters, Nikita and Ankita, and he now lives in Santacruz. His wife Yashodha and daughter Nikita are also directors in Shiv Sagar Foods and Resorts Pvt Ltd. Nikita, who graduated in Instrumental Engineering from Swami Vivekananda College joined the business recently and has opened a new non-vegetarian restaurant Fish and Bait at the Bandra Kurla Complex.

"I didn't study but I always wanted my children to study and expand my business,” says Narayan. “I didn't force them but I knew they will get interested… and I am glad that Nikita has opened something totally different. I am really proud that she took a different path instead of opening a new Shiv Sagar branch.”

His second daughter is planning to join his business too.

Today, apart from Mumbai, Shiv Sagar has also opened in Pune and Mangaluru. Narayan wants to open two or three new branches in 2018, and eventually expand his business out of India.

Narayan, who came to Mumbai with just Rs 30 in his pocket, is now the owner of Shiv Sagar, owns his house in Mumbai and owns four cars. His story is all about hard work and always following your dreams.

This Article is Part of the 'Amazing Entrepreneurs' Series 

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