Ananthi Natarajan – Making vegetarian food popular in Kuwait

    Hotel Saravana Bhavan was launched in Kuwait in March 2012, and soon, its menu of delicious and healthy vegetarian cuisine captured the hearts of the Indian community in Kuwait. The restaurant is located on the 4th floor of Humoud Towers, off the Gulf Road in Fahaheel, above the Centrepoint Store. In a clear sign of its growing popularity, and due to popular demand, it recently opened a branch in Salmiya, marking a new chapter in its illustrious journey in Kuwait.

    The Saravana Bhavan, the largest South Indian vegetarian restaurant chain in the world, started out as a small food outlet in a middle-class suburb of Chennai, India, in 1981 and gradually mushroomed into many outlets across India and the world. Under Ananthi Natarajan’s able guidance in Kuwait, the franchise has met with notable success and earned a reputation in the restaurant scene as the best destination for South Indian cuisine. Behind her are her loving husband and daughter who lend their full support to her endeavors. Her daughter, Aarthi Siddharth, is following her mother’s example with success in her own business, an online shopping portal for sarees and dress materials.

    The Times Kuwait recently visited the Saravana Bhavan restaurant for a talk with its vivacious and charming proprietress, Ananthi Natarajan. “I am by nature a very active person, and after coming to Kuwait following my marriage, I wanted to find something to keep me occupied.” “In Chennai, I had the experience of running a hospital cafeteria attached to my brother’s Specialty Hospital in Chennai, which fostered in me an interest in the food industry,” she added.

    To the question of why bring the franchise to Kuwait, she replied, “I am a vegetarian who enjoys vegetarian food. I noticed that it was very difficult to get good vegetarian food in Kuwait. I decided that since this concept is very famous all over the world, I should try it here because I felt there was a market for it.” “While I was working to establish this restaurant, many people thought I couldn’t do it,” she chuckled, thinking of her naysayers.

    “I opened my second outlet in Dajeej on the request of Lulu Hypermarket and it was a source of pride that I was asked. The latest one was launched in Salmiya as the area is home to a large expat community who relish vegetarian food,” Mrs. Natarajan said. With regards to her future plans, she disclosed, “I am thinking about maybe expanding to other areas, and it depends if I get any further requests.” When asked how, in the present over-saturated market when many restaurants are struggling to attract customers, her restaurants manage to distinguish themselves, she said, “Aside from the vegetarian concept, I believe customer satisfaction is at the forefront of the restaurant’s success in Kuwait.”

    “If you please customers you can sustain your restaurant,” she said with genuine pride, before adding, “Customers regularly give me feedback and it is very important for me. I try to establish a home-like atmosphere for everyone to relax and enjoy their food in a casual environment.” Sharing her top tips for running a successful restaurant, she underscored that restaurant owners must understand the customer.

    She stressed, “We have to be genuine in providing a wholesome service to the customer as they are integral to the strength of the restaurant. You have to maintain good quality, taste and service!” On the overall customer feedback, she replied it was positive. “I see many known faces, and we have a repeating customer base.” Noting that many people have shared their appreciation for her efforts, she said humbly, “I feel good because many people have thanked me for bringing vegetarian food to Kuwait. It is part of my business, but so many people, who are vegetarians here, express gratitude for my menu food items like Thali, which is very tasty and filling.”

    “I am doing something good, and very happy that people acknowledge the quality taste I bring to them,” she said. Speaking about her dedication to her job, she said, “My approach to business is I am very particular about every detail and aspect of the business. If something goes wrong then it will reflect badly on the restaurant’s reputation. However, I do try to take care of my workers, and resolve their problems as I understand their plight.”

    On ideas for another restaurant, she revealed, “If given another chance, I would prefer to open another Indian restaurant because I want to be very involved in every decision from its menu preparation to service and Indian cuisine is what I know best.” Touching on her successes in life, she said with pride, ‘I was conferred with a doctorate in Women Empowerment & Entrepreneurship from Chicago University. It was a grand recognition of my accomplishments; especially as no other lady entrepreneur is doing what I am doing in the hotel business.”