Established in 1924, Mavalli Tiffin Rooms or MTR has withstood the test of time and is still a hot destination for South Indian meals.
Most Bangaloreans will get the name right when asked about the oldest eatery joint on Lalbagh Road. The famed eatery - Mavalli Tiffin Rooms or MTR, as it is popularly known, has withstood the test of time and is still a hot favourite among Bangloreans, whenever one yearns for a sumptuous South Indian meal.
“Our dosas and coffee are the most popular items on our menu. In fact, the Lalbagh branch has a unique coffee customer base,” points out Hemamalini Maiya, who runs the restaurant along with her brothers. For a long time, since establishment in 1924, the Maiyas did not expand their business.
“My father (Harishchandra Maiya) was not keen on expansion, mainly because he was not sure if we would be interested in joining the family business in the future. In fact, there were very good offers he used to get to expand in other parts of the country, but he was content running this one branch,” Hemamalini said.
However, the third generation took it upon themselves to expand the business. “After my father’s demise in 1999, I and my brother took over. We realised that expansion was the need of the hour. After all, the city had expanded and it was not possible for people to come all the way to Lalbagh. We had to reach out to people. Today, we have six restaurants,” she says, adding that plans of adding two more in Indiranagar and Mysore Road is on the cards.
The eateries have still managed to retain the old world charm. “This is a conscious effort on our part to maintain the look and feel of the restaurant. We are very clear that we are not a luxury brand,” she sserts.
Is an expansion into other parts of India on the agenda? “As of now we are not. Even our expansion in the city has been at a slow pace. One needs to understand that we are a family-run business. So there are limitations,” she replies, adding that the company is apprehensive of taking the franchise route.
“If MTR is to remain popular, it has to maintain a standard of quality and taste,” she says. With this in mind, the group has designated its oldtimers with leadership roles at various branches. “Some cooks have been with us for over 40 years. They have great potential, which is apparent as they are handling various branches of MTR very successfully.”
The Maiya family went through a rough patch during mid 1970s - the Emergency Period. The government had introduced flat rates for hotel food at the time. Maiyas were left with little choice, but to pull down the shutters for a brief period.
“During this period they had to keep the staff occupied and that is how MTR’s packed foods division was kickstarted. For instance, they made rava idli mix, khara bhaath, sambar mix, and other stuff and started selling them out of here,” she recollects. This continued even post-Emergency, owing to its popularity.
The division later went on to become a separate entity — MTR Foods. “Unlike the restaurant business, MTR Foods aggressively expanded operations.” The brand was finally bought over by a Norwegian company Orkla for $80 million in March 2007. “Though we have no association with MTR Foods anymore, we share the same brand name.”
Another setback hit the organisation in 1999. With the untimely demise of Harishchandra Maiya, the restaurant was left with no succession plan in place. “There were lot of question marks and gaps. The uncertainty in the minds of people, especially our staff, was evident. They weren’t sure whether they would still have a job the next morning,” says Hemamalini, “I had no time to grieve, the very next day after my father passed away, I was at work taking over from where he left off.”
She had a tough task cut out for her, being the first woman to enter the third generation family business. “Initially, it was difficult for the staff to take me seriously and accept me as a leader, as many of them have seen me from my childhood days. So taking orders from me was not easy. But I had to put across the point that I am here to stay.”
Also, the high attrition in the industry does not help. “It is hard to get and retain cleaning staff. They would much rather clean a mall than work in a kitchen.” The brand has also tried to standardise its recipes as getting good cooks is rare.