Entrepreneurs making strides in the F&B industry and other top stories of the week

This week, SMBStory also covered the journey of Jeyalakshmi Venkatanarayanan, whose resolve to give her daughters a quality education led her to kickstart her business venture.
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Dr R Ravichandar came to Bengaluru in 1979 to study. He had left his hometown—a small district called Sholinghur, near Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, in hopes of making it big in the city.

After completing his education, Ravichandar did odd jobs for a few years including that of a bank clerk. However, he wasn’t satisfied with the pace at which life was moving and wanted to try something else.

This hunger (pun not intended) led him to take up a job as a manager at a restaurant called Kanishka in 1983. Ravichandar’s stint at Kanishka proved to be a game-changing one and is also responsible for building the foundation for his success in the industry.

While closely watching the day-to-day workings of the outlet, he developed a passion for food and entrepreneurship. Soon, he realised that becoming a food entrepreneur was his ikigai.

He quit his job in 1987 and decided to launch a venture with four of his friends. Together, they invested Rs 6 lakh to open a restaurant called Suhasini. The restaurant was launched with great gusto but failed to set the cash registers ringing. The lukewarm response scared the other four investors.

“The partners were not ready to invest more money,” he says.

A year later, in 1988, Ravichandar hit rock bottom when the restaurant had to be finally shut down. “One of those days, I was feeling very low and so I went to watch a movie,” he says.

The movie was Manathil Uruthi Vendum. Ravichandar says that the character of Suhasini, a nurse, a divorcee, and the sole breadwinner for her family—inspired him to pursue his passion. The movie traces her journey of how she navigates through various struggles for the sake of her kin.

“Suhasini’s character inspired me a lot. I told myself that I cannot give up. I need to believe in myself and move forward for myself and my family.”

It seemed like the dust had finally settled as Ravichandar got ready to kick-start the second innings of his entrepreneurial journey. At that moment, he didn’t anticipate the kind of success this venture would be. He launched a restaurant business, Nandhana, in 1989. Three decades later, from one, Nandhana has grown to 23 outlets and clocked Rs 68 crore in FY21.

Read the full story here.

Navalprabha Foods

It was the mid-1980s, Harak Soni’s aunt, Meena Soni, who had settled in the US, was missing Indian food, especially Khaman dhokla (a light and spongy snack made from flour). So, when she came to India on her annual visit, she told her family to come up with a solution for her craving.

Harak’s father, Jayesh Soni, and his grandfather, Narayanji Soni, prepared a homemade premix of the dhokla, which Meena could take back to the States. Soon, the premix did not just solve her dilemma but it also became widely popular in the States, especially among the Indian diaspora, says Harak, the director of Navalprabha Foods.

The product’s instant popularity led the Soni family to start supplying the premix to the US through Meena and some domestic retailers. Till about 1988, the family was operating on a small scale, but when they were convinced that they had found a good business opportunity, they couldn’t let go of it.

The same year, the Soni family set up a 1000 sq.feet manufacturing unit and launched Navalprabha Foods in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, with an investment of Rs 7,000. One of its first customers was a Nashik-based FMCG company, which requested Harak’s father to manufacture a gulab jamun premix.

Three decades later, Navalprabha Foods is today a white label manufacturer that supplies to companies such as Nilon’s, an FMCG company, and Rakesh Masala, a spice manufacturer. Its portfolio includes premixes for dhokla, gulab jamun, idli, dosa, vada, ice cream, and cakes and flavoured cashews and millets. Going forward, it wants to become a contract manufacturer for direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands.

Read the full story here.

Universe Power Systems

Jeyalakshmi Venkatanarayan’s power solutions company arose out of a crisis, a financial crisis to be precise.

In the early 90s, Jeyalakshmi, a trained classical dancer, was taking dance classes at home and also at schools and dance academies. Her husband was working in a granite export factory but his income was insufficient to meet the needs of the family, especially their two daughters. It was so hard to sustain themselves in India’s Silicon Valley that her husband decided to move back to their hometown in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. That’s when Jeyalakshmi decided to take control of the situation and look for a business opportunity.

“It started with a quest to give my daughters a quality education, and I came a long way. I didn’t get any family support when I wanted to pursue a business. If I had gotten support, I would have also easily followed the passion I had for dance,” says Jeyalakshmi, in an exclusive interaction with SMBStory. This 62-year-old entrepreneur says it is very important for near and dear to show support, as it can play an important role in reshaping one’s life.

“I always dreamt of pursuing my education from IIT but I could not and did not want my daughters to go through the same pain. I wanted to give them a quality education. Thus, I decided to stay back (in Bengaluru),” she says.

That decision made all the difference and since then there has been no looking back for Jeyalakshmi, who now runs a successful enterprise—Universe Power Systems.

Universe Power Systems is a Bengaluru-based company that provides power solutions to customers in sectors such as IT, healthcare, government, finance, education, and research. The company is a dealer of online UPS (sales, service, and rental), batteries, stabilisers, home inverters, diesel generators, server racks, data center projects, and precision air conditioning systems.

Read the full story here.