Bengaluru’s Rameshwaram Cafe goes to Hyderabad; Dubai, Chennai next

Bengaluru’s Rameshwaram Cafe goes to Hyderabad; Dubai, Chennai next

Why Hyderabad? Will the menu change? How did the restaurant achieve so much in so little time? And, why 'Rameshwaram'? Read on!

In the explosive culinary scene of Bengaluru, no restaurant in recent history has created as much a kerfuffle as The Rameshwaram Cafe has, in such little time. Just two years and four outlets (Indiranagar, JP Nagar, Brookfield and Rajajinagar) in the city later, the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) is crossing the Karnataka border, launching a new branch in Hyderabad early next month.

It’s just the beginning of what the owners call “the larger plan of a global South India-specific culinary expedition”. Just for the record, Dubai is next in line.

Elated and excited, Divya Raghavendra Rao and Raghavendra Rao, the couple who launched what is arguably the most-talked about restaurant in the country in 2023 (Google throws up stuff like “why is Rameshwaram Café so famous”), say: "Yeah, right from our first venture, we wanted to have a bigger footprint. Of course, we are in no hurry, and it might take time, but our vision is clear on what we want to achieve. We are starting the-rest-of India journey with an outlet in Madhapur in Hyderabad. We are planning a Sankranti launch. Here we are.”

So why Hyderabad, not Chennai, perhaps the obvious choice?

Why Hyderabad?

“Logistically speaking, everything fell in place for the Hyderabad operations to begin. Chennai, for many reasons, is perhaps my favourite city where I discovered myself. Chennai should be the next in India; it’s only a question of time and space. Since you asked about Chennai, I must say that I have an emotional bond with the city. I worked at Sathyam Cinemas and harboured a film career as an actor, hoping to work with the likes of Shankar and Mani Ratnam. But, as they say, destiny had other ideas,” says Raghavendra Rao, going down memory lane in a post-midnight conversation with The Federal.

For the Hyderabad operations, work has been on for the past eight months or so, with mock runs being held almost every day.

“We take the preparation time very seriously. One of the main reasons for our success is the elaborate planning we do every time we open an outlet. We go for intensive training with existing staff to replicate the same culinary experience. Which is why you see consistency. In Hyderabad, too, we are following the operational procedures quite religiously,” says Raghavendra, who started and ran the famous IDC Kitchen for almost two years before launching Rameshwaam Cafe.

For many readers, this IDC Kitchen connection could be a big surprise. A longer interview is coming up and we have many more such tidbits. Stay tuned to The Federal.

Hyderabad is just 550 km away from Bengaluru, but the platter is like chalk and cheese. So, will the couple tweak the now-famed menu to suit local tastebuds?

“Well, we will have almost the same menu in Hyderabad, but we are adding some extra items. Of course, some will have to be tweaked to adapt to the local taste. Since we are in the Telugu heartland, the spice quotient needs some push,” says Raghavendra, breaking into laughter, showing no signs of slowing down, though it's late at night.

The Rameshwaram USP

It’s almost 1 am, and all the Rameshwaram Cafe outlets are still taking orders.

Raghavendra Rao and Divya, the couple behind the Rameshwaram Cafe's stunning story

The surging crowd at the outlets, sometimes even beyond 1 am, is seen to be believed, almost akin to the maddening rush seen at the (old) Saravana Stores at T Nagar in Chennai. People can be seen sitting on the floor or even on pavements, satiating their (midnight) cravings, be it their signature ghee idli, ghee podi masala or pongal.

The outlets close at 2 am, only to open again at 5 am. Almost robotic?

“Not quite. Everything can be done if you have a clear plan. There is no question of weariness if you are passionate about your work. Technically, we are working 24/7, barring one hour of deep cleaning. We have over 800 employees, and we work in shifts and in tandem. In fact, we are waiting for the government's permission to keep our outlets open 365 days and 24x7. Once we get the official nod, we will run restaurants round-the-clock,” says Raghavendra, who has named the restaurant after Rameswaram, where his idol, the late APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India, was born.

Such is the planning that none of the outlets has a refrigerator, and chutney and batter are grated/grounded intermittently throughout the day “so that food can be served fresh every single time”.

What next? “As I have said, we have plans to go big, albeit slowly. After Hyderabad and Dubai, it could be Chennai. Then, all big South Indian cities, including Kozhikode (Calicut). Then to North and Western India, and afterward abroad. In Bengaluru, we plan to open on Hennur Road, New Airport Road and Sarjapur,” adds Raghavendra, who once sold idlis and dosas on a pushcart at Kumara Park in the heart of Bengaluru for two years.

Memes, trolls, fans and more

In a city bustling with legendary vegetarian restaurants with a rich legacy and cult dishes, what The Rameshwaram Cafe has done in just two years is quite incredible: 10X10 or 10/15 sq ft stores at prime locations with no parking, staying open almost 20 hours, source of internet memes and of trolls (some say “the most-hyped restaurant”), an eclectic blend of traditional and modern delicacies, lightning service aided by technology, the magic mantra of using only ghee (no oil), and the tactical shift from largely Udupi-style cuisine.

From a pushcart to a restaurant chain with stunning monthly sales, Raghavendra and his wife (“my lifeline”, he chuckles) have come a long way.

Sounds surreal? It does. After all, he is a ‘devotee’ of Abdul Kalam, who inspired many people to Dream Big.

Sometimes, you think risk and luck are siblings. Or partners.

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