Dosa Plaza: India

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Dosa Plaza

Times of India

20 Feb, 2012

Amit Shanbaug, ET Bureau

Dosa Plaza: How Prem Ganapathy built Rs 30 crore empire with seed capital of just Rs 1000

A class X passout with no particular skill set, Prem Ganapathy was lured to Mumbai, only to be robbed. It was an inauspicious start to his entrepreneurial journey, but it turned out for the best.

He belonged to a poor family from Nagalapuram in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin district and had to abandon his dreams of higher studies to support his parents and seven siblings. he headed for Chennai, but only managed odd jobs, which fetched around Rs 250 a month that he'd send back home.

One day, an acquaintance offered him a job promising a salary of Rs 1,200 per month in Mumbai. he knew his parents would never approve of his decision to shift base, so he left for Mumbai without informing them. It was 1990 and he was just 17 years old. The acquaintance robbed him off the Rs 200 he had, leaving him stranded at Bandra.

he hardly understood the language and did not know anyone in the city, but returning wasn't an option since he was penniless. So he did the only thing he could: he decided to stay on and try his luck.

The very next day he got a job washing dishes at a local bakery at Mahim for a salary of Rs 150 a month. The good bit was that he could sleep at the bakery itself. In the next two years, he picked up odd jobs at various restaurants and tried to save as much as possible.

In 1992, he managed to save up enough to start his own food business, selling idlis and dosas. he rented a handcart for about Rs 150 and ploughed in another Rs 1,000 to buy utensils, a stove and basic ingredients, and set up shop on the street opposite the Vashi train station.

The same year, he brought in two of his brothers, Murugan and Paramashivan, who were younger than him by two and four years, respectively, to help with the business. They were very particular about quality and cleanliness, and unlike the people running other roadside eateries, they were very well-dressed and wore caps.

he got the recipes for dosas and the sambhar from his native place, which attracted a lot of customers. Soon enough, the business was booming and they were generating a net profit of around Rs 20,000 every month.

They even managed to rent out a small space at Vashi, which doubled as their living quarters and a makeshift kitchen, where they would prepare all the ingredients and masala every day.

However, it wasn't smooth sailing. They faced the risk of the cart being seized by the municipal authorities as handcart foodstalls do not get licences to ply their trade.

In fact, their cart was seized several times and he had to pay a fine to have it released. Thankfully, the harassment ended when they saved enough to open a restaurant.

In 1997, they leased a small space in the same locality by paying a deposit of Rs 50,000 and named it Prem Sagar Dosa Plaza. They paid a monthly rental of Rs 5,000 and also hired two people.

The restaurant was frequented by college-goers, some of whom became good friends. They taught him how to use the Internet, which helped him get new recipes from across the world. Soon, he began to experiment with dosas, rolling out offerings, such as the schezwan dosa, paneer chilly, and spring roll dosa. In the first year, they introduced 26 innovative dosas.

By 2002, they had managed to create more than 105 dosa varieties and their outlet had become very popular. However, he dreamt of opening a shop in a mall and even tried to get a place in some of the suburban malls. he was repeatedly turned down as the space was reserved for branded eateries like McDonald's and Pizza Hut.

His luck turned the day Centre One mall decided to open up in their vicinity. Its management team and staffers had often dined at their restaurant and enjoyed their fare. They suggested that they set up an outlet in the mall and they happily complied.

Our dosas won us publicity and people began approaching us with franchise requests. They agreed, with the stipulation that they would supply the dosa batter and other ingredients. The first franchise outlet opened at Wonder Mall in Thane, in 2003. Around 4-5 years ago, they got a new brand logo, Dr D.

They've been getting several requests from people who want to set up Dosa Plaza outlets in other countries. They have three outlets in New Zealand, two in Dubai and are looking at opening some in Muscat this year, along with 10-15 more restaurants in India.

These will add to their current tally of 43 (including franchisees) across 11 states. The business he started with a seed capital of Rs 1,000 has grown into a Rs 30 crore company and they are aiming for a Rs 40 crore revenue for this year.

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