From Trichur to Jantar Mantar to V3S mall, Kutty has come a long way wielding the ladle
The last thing that C Kesavan Kutty, who has built a popular culinary brand of his own in Delhi after landing here as an adolescent to work in a school canteen, would compromise on is ‘quality,’ the fact that he has made it big in life, making Rs 60,000 a day and living in posh Mayur Vihar, notwithstanding.
It has not been a bed of roses for Kutty, who, in the last 47 years in the national capital, has seen several ups and down in life and business but remained steadfast and dedicated to his calling of serving delicious and authentic south Indian food to his loyal customers.
Kutty’s Café was launched in one of the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council) shops in Jantar Mantar area in 1987 with a modest investment of Rs 5,000 that went into the buying of utensils and minimum furniture for the 36 sq ft outlet.
“We sold dosas for Rs 2.50 a piece when we started,” recalls the kurta-pajama clad Kutty with the infectious smile that has endeared him to the customers. Today the minimum cost of an ordinary dosa is Rs 50, which is attributed only to inflation, and more than 500 dosas are served in a single day.
Initially people who came to the bustling area, which, besides the popular protest venue, also houses a plethora of government offices and a few political party headquarters, dropped in for quick bite or even a fulfilling meal, savouring the delicacies on Kutty’s menu: Steaming hot idlis and vadas, crispy dosas, rava kesari dripping with pure ghee and so on.
It was a one-man show by Kutty, who was the cook, waiter and cashier – he only had a help to do the dishes back then.
That ability to multi-task, particularly the talent to remember multiple orders from diners without the help of a notepad (or in today’s case an iPad) persists with Kutty even though there are 30 persons in his employ in his three outlets now – one at Gole Market and the other one as the posh mall on Vikas Marg in Laxmi Nagar.
Other traits that helped him script the success story that he has not lost are his humbleness and sense of gratitude. When he opened South Indian Café, a 600 sq ft restaurant at the V3S mall, in 2012, it was inaugurated by Tajdar Babar, a senior Congress Party politician of Delhi.
Kutty’s meeting with Babar in 1982 was the first turning point in his life that subsequently catapulted him to the present level. While working at the canteen in Delhi Tamil School in Lakshmi Bai Nagar, which was run by his elder brother, and also living there, Kutty mingled with local politicians and would visit the Congress party office regularly. It was there he met Babar, when she was contesting for the elections to the Delhi Metropolitan Council as a Congress candidate.
Kutty fondly calls her Mummy. “I visit her every second day and if I don’t, she would call me up and ask about my whereabouts. She is the one because of whom I can speak good Urdu and she is not just a mother figure but a god mother to me as she suggested me to apply for the NDMC shop on rent and start my own joint in 1987,” recalls Kutty. So when he moved to a higher plane in business, he wanted her blessings and urged her to open the restaurant in the mall.
“Mummy inaugurated the restaurant and it was the happiest day in my life. This place is owned by me and it works on the QSR template where we have a manager, cooks, and prices are higher in comparison to the Jantar Mantar joint,” he says.
His other shop in Gole Market is a workshop cum restaurant of about 600 sq ft. “Fresh masalas for sambhar are prepared here every day using best quality spices of MDH sourced from Khari Baoli which cost us Rs 800 per kg, while we can easily buy cheap quality spices for as low as Rs 200,” he says.”
“But I don’t want to compromise with quality, even if my profit is a little low. I am happy with what I earn and feel blessed. There have been days when we did not prepare rava kesari, a special sweet made in desi ghee if the ghee was less or stock had finished because I did not want to compromise with the quality.”
But he had to strive hard to reach this point in his business and life. When he was operating the eatery in Jantar Mantar, the skills he had picked up at his brother’s canteen came handy to impress the few diners.
“We sold dosas for Rs 2.50 and vadas for Rs 2. I would earn about Rs 100 daily, making about Rs 36000 annually which was a good amount then,” he recalls.
“People liked the fresh food, and the fact that dosas are easy on the stomach. There was a bus stop nearby and government employees also ate here, and slowly through word of mouth this place became a favourite.
“College students would come here. Quite a few love stories blossomed here. They still come here with their children and talk about the good old days.”
He has received immense love and respect from his customers as he treats them with priority. The Jantar Mantar outlet hardly has space for more than 7-8 people to sit, so the rest would stand and eat or take the dosas in the car and eat comfortably.
There have been various famous politicians and rich men, who would ask their drivers to buy dosa and eat it in the car. And they would call him later and tell him how they enjoyed the food.
Jha, a regular here elaborates: “My workplace is nearby and I have at least one meal of the day here. I am amused by the efficiency of people serving here, as they will cater to ten people in one go, but they have never jumbled an order.”
The 3 outlets registered under the name of Kuttys South Indian Café with him as proprietor now have an average combined daily sale of Rs 60,000 but he does not count the daily collection for he trusts his employees immensely.
“I have instructed my staff to be honest with money matters, and they have returned balance as little as Rs 50 if a customer forgot to collect it and returned it even if they came back after weeks,” explains Kutty.
His two sons, Kapil and Rajiv are dancing and engineering final year students respectively. They wish to create a name in their filed and make their father proud.
But Kutty did not have that privilege as a child. Born in Chelkar village of Trichur District in Kerala as the youngest of five siblings, with twoelder brothers and two elder sisters, life was never easy.
His father passed away when he was six months old and mother and siblings worked hard in their farmlands to ensure the family got two square meals. He laughs about the difficult times “Everybody in those days lived a hard life, so ours isn’t a different story.”
By the time he finished his class five, he realised that earning money won’t be possible in the village. His eldest brother worked at Ranbaxy Delhi. The other brother started a canteen serving dosas and idlis in Delhi Tamil School in South Delhi and Kutty joined him in 1972.
He had an arranged marriage in 1992. “I wanted to marry when I was financially stable and my wife supported me in every way. In 1995 I bought my own house in Mayur Vihar near the Guruvayur temple.”
A simple man, he rides in a Creta SUV with windows rolled down because he is not used to the air conditioner and has his lunch at whichever outlet he visits.
He also stays connected with his roots. Currently he is the Vice President of Delhi Malayalee Association and he visits Kerala for 2-3 days every other month to check on the farmlands and visit family.