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Thursday November 15, 2012

The sweet smell of success

TRY asking anyone in Penang where you can find tasty Indian banana leaf rice with dishes, and chances are that you may be directed to one of the Sri Ananda Bahwan (SAB) outlets.

SAB, which is now a household name for Malaysian Indian cuisine, was first established on Oct 3, 1991 as a start-up enterprise with a mere RM6,000 as capital.

Its first outlet was situated at 2982, Jalan Bagan Luar, Butterworth in Penang.

It was later incorporated into a private limited company called the Sri Ananda Bahwan Restaurant (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, on March 9, 2001.

Founder and managing director V. Selvaraj, 48, said the restaurant’s success was largely due to commitment from his family members as well as their workers’ dedication.

“Other contributing factors include maintaining cleanliness and providing a comfortable environment in our restaurants, serving a variety of tasty dishes at reasonable prices as well as retaining a good relationship with our suppliers for fresh raw produce,” he said.

To date, he said, SAB had 11 outlets including one each in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.

In Penang alone, it has three on the island — two along Penang Street, George Town (where one is a fully vegetarian outlet), and a multi cuisine garden restaurant in Tanjung Bungah — as well as three on the mainland in Taman Inderawasih in Prai, Taman Usahaniaga in Bukit Mertajam and Jalan Bagan Luar, Butterworth.

Selvaraj said the restaurant in 1991, humbly began with only six tables and 24 chairs.

“I remembered our former cook, Kasinathan Pillai, who was then about 65 years old, had used to meticulously prepare several simple yet delectable South Indian dishes.

“We struggled hard back then as we only had six workers, all of whom were mainly senior citizens. My mother Radhabai Ayyasamy Naidu was in charge of the kitchen operations while my four brothers and three sisters would help at the restaurant after finishing their day jobs,” he said.

Selvaraj, who used to cook for the Sree Mariamman Temple nearby, said two years after opening the restaurant, he introduced a new menu comprising 30 dishes including chicken varuval, chicken perattal and mutton perattal masala, apart from offering door-to-door tiffin delivery.

He said the dishes became a hit among customers in Penang as well as from neighbouring states, which led him to open the restaurant’s first branch in Sungai Petani, Kedah, in 1997.

Later in 1999, he said, apart from opening another branch in Kulim, he invested RM400,000 to buy up an adjoining double-storey shophouse unit, next to the Butterworth outlet.

“We made minor renovations to the Butterworth outlet and recruited 25 workers from India, including two specialist cooks.

“Back then, apart from serving varuval chicken and mutton dishes, our customers enjoyed our white vegetarian bihun, onion pakoda and kesari,” he said.

His younger brother Hari Krishnan, 44, later partnered him in 1997 and helped further expand the restaurants altogether.

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Currently, Selvaraj said they had expanded their menu to offer over 70 dishes comprising South and North Indian dishes as well as Chinese, Continental and Malaysian dishes, which include 25 chicken, 10 mutton, 10 fish and 10 vegetable varieties.

He said among their 40 workers, six cooks specialised in South Indian dishes, North Indian dishes, tandoori dishes, bread, snacks and sweets respectively.

“We seemed to attract more of the family crowd while regular customers still continue supporting us,” he said.

The group has also diversified. Hari Krishnan said that apart from establishing SAB Caterers Sdn Bhd, which handled some 70 to 100 catering orders per month, the company has also ventured into retail business.

He said the company had invested about RM400,000 in two apparel boutiques called Ananda Sakti Silk House, RM500,000 in a sundry shop called SAB Cash & Carry Sdn Bhd and RM150,000 in an Indian sweets shop called SAB Sweets and Savouries Sdn Bhd.

“We are also eying India and hope to open our first SAB hotel-cum- restaurant in T. Nagar, Chennai, by early next year.

“Two years ago, we started Anandham Tour and Travel, which organises trips for Malaysians to India,” he said.

Hari Krishnan said: “This 40-room medium budget hotel and restaurant mainly caters to our Malaysian tourists, who miss home-cooked meals and the local living ambience, while travelling in India.”

The future beckons for this family venture and the chain of restaurants is expected to flourish as the family often fine-tune their menu to accommodate the tastebud of their customers.

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