Cleaning canteens to launching Shiv Sagar restaurant, Butterfly High & Kyma, Poojaris recall their journey

webnexttech | Cleaning canteens to launching Shiv Sagar restaurant, Butterfly High & Kyma, Poojaris recall their journey

Narayan Poojari was 13 years old when he left Kundapur, a tiny coastal town near Udupi in Karnataka, and moved to Mumbai. To make ends meet, he joined a canteen as a cleaning boy and enrolled himself in a night school. The next decade saw him working at various canteens in various capacities from washing the dishes and manning the tables, to running it. Things turned around for good when a gentleman called Baghubhai Patel decided to set up Shiv Sagar at Kemps Corner and offered him a job as a manager in 1990. “I became a partner within five to six months,” said Poojari, now 57, recalling how the popular multi-cuisine vegetarian restaurant chain began as an ice cream parlour. “We would buy ice cream from Kwality and offer them as it is or as sundaes.” Over time, they expanded their menu to include pizza, pav bhaji, South Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and North Indian dishes. “Our pav bhaji and pizza were an instant hit. While pizza was a novelty in those days and we would sell 400-500 of them throughout the day, pav bhaji and fruit juice became a staple at night. To cater to our customers, we would remain open till 2.30 am. It was post the 1993 blasts in Mumbai that restrictions came in regards to timings,” said Poojari. During our recent visit to the 48-seater outpost in Kemps Corner, we sampled a variety of dishes. The watermelon juice with fresh cubes of fruit offered a refreshing break from the summer heat. While the highlight of the meal was undeniably the butter-soaked soft pavs served with flavourful bhaji, their onion and capsicum pizza, generously loaded with strand-like cheese, didn’t quite hit the mark for us. Nevertheless, observing its presence on numerous tables, it was evident that it has a loyal following. For dessert, we indulged in their mango and cream—a decadent treat featuring mango cubes, condensed milk, and a generous dollop of whipped cream. Birth of many “Sagars” The business, said Poojari, who took over the reins of Shiv Sagar after the demise of Patel in 1991, was making profits since day one. So he decided to open a second outpost at Churchgate, followed by another at Colaba and then one in Thane. Today, he has about 15 restaurants under the Shiv Sagar chain, spread across Mumbai, Pune and Mangalore, the biggest being a 300-seater restaurant on Nashik Highway. Although there are numerous establishments named Shiv Sagar (including Shankar Poojary’s Shiv Sagar that started in Vile Parle in 1981, now run by his sons Sunil and Shridhar), Sukh Sagar, and others with “Sagar” in their title, it’s important to note that not all of them are associated with Narayan Poojari. “The only connecting link perhaps is that we all hail from Kundapur,” he shared, adding that they even had a legal battle to protect their trademark, and reached an agreement where other restaurants with the same name can’t operate within a five-kilometre radius. To distinguish them, Poojari advises spotting their logo — “Shiv Sagar” in either red or green font, with a prominent S and R. Beyond Shiv Sagar Expanding beyond the vegetarian restaurant space, Poojari invested in Mahesh Lunch Home in mid-90s and started another venture called Fish and Bait two decades later. “It was a premium fine dining seafood restaurant in BKC where a meal for two would cost Rs 4,000-5,000, and although the food was top-notch, it struggled to establish itself and even break even,” said Nikita, 28, an engineer by education who never envisioned as a restauranteur until Fish & Bait. “The first restaurant that I stepped into didn’t work despite my best efforts. In hindsight, it taught me more than everything else combined,” she laughed. Not one to give up, Poojari gave his daughter Nikita three months to think of another concept that would replace Fish & Bait, else they would have to give up the place because the lease was ending. “We now knew that fine dining wasn’t working. We also knew that people are looking for a casual diner/resto bars, so we decided to open Butterfly High with an almost shoestring budget for decor and interiors,” she recalled, adding how this was also her introduction to a different landscape of restauranting. “At Shiv Sagar, the spices are still handpicked by my father and almost every restaurant is managed by a relative of ours, thus ensuring quality and consistency. With Butterfly High, we hired a corporate chef to streamline every recipe. Thankfully, it kicked off, leading us to open four more outlets across the city,” shared Nikita, who also started Kyma, an Asian-Mediterranean restaurant that recently completed two years. Last year, Ankita, a management graduate, joined the family business. Unlike Nikita, who grew to appreciate the restaurant industry over time, Ankita always knew this was her calling. While she assists in running the existing restaurants, she’s also planning to launch her own establishment. When asked about it, Ankita hinted at it being a cafe and bar concept.

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