With earphones on and his i-pod playing his favourites, Sadanand Maiya, owner of Maiya’s restaurant was killing time at the airport once, as he so often did on his numerous domestic and international travels, when he saw a young Taiwanese passenger munching on a ‘noodle’ bar.
He thought of making a snack bar based on an Indian dish. That was how he came up with the idea of India’s first bhel bar! Tangy and traditional, and crispy to the last bite, the bhel bar was launched a few years ago. “It’s about reviving good old things in a new fashion,” he says.
Had he not reinvented the kodubole (a fried savoury snack famous in Karnataka), it would have gone into oblivion, he declares.
“People don’t make snacks at home anymore, so the traditional snacks are dying. You have Haldirams for North Indian snacks but nothing in South India.”
As some may prefer kodubole and others favour murukku, he says people should be offered a choice. “We enjoy these differences.”
He is a scion of the original founders of Mavalli Tiffin Room or the famous MTR. The inauguration of the first MTR in January 1960, near Lalbagh Main Gate, was marked by a seven hour concert by R K Srinivasamurthy at the venue.
The MTR website describes its story. MTR was set up near Lalbagh Fort in Bangalore by two brothers, Yajnanarayana Maiya and Ganappayya Maiya who came down from a place called Parampalli, near Udupi. In 1936 Ganappayya Maiya decided to go back to Parampalli. Yajnanarayana Maiya now assumed full charge of the restaurant. It was originally called ‘Brahmin’s Coffee House’, but the name was changed when it was shifted to a bigger premises in 1960.
MTR is our Bangalore Global Icon number 19. In 1950, Yajnarayana Maiya undertook a European tour to see for himself how restaurants in other parts of the world functioned. The cleanliness and hygiene there opened his eyes. He resolved that MTR would adhere to the same standard of cleanliness. He distributed small booklets on health, proper eating habits and recipes. He introduced the system of sterilization of kitchen items. He also introduced the system of opening up the kitchen to the scrutiny of any customer who was interested. In fact, for a long time customers entered the restaurant through the kitchen so that by default they saw with their own eyes the hygienic methods of food preparation.
In 1968 Yajnanarayana Maiya passed away and the reins of the restaurant was taken over by his nephew, Harishchandra Maiya. Yajnanarayana Maiya’s son, Sadananda Maiya also joined in a few years later.
In 1976, when the Emergency was declared, the government called five of the most well known restaurants in the city – including MTR – and told them that they had to reduce the prices of the food at their restaurants according to government approved rates, to bring it within the reach of the common man.
The prices of the items were to be the same in all the restaurants. Some restaurants paid up, others started compromising on the quality. MTR did neither. MTR kept the quality of the food as high as ever and put up a board stating the losses for the day outside the restaurant. MTR continued in this way for 16 days. On the 16th day it closed down. During this time, MTR opened a small departmental store next to the hotel and started making and selling mixes for rava idli and other items. The restaurant opened again once the Emergency was lifted.
In 1994 the company split into two divisions. The packaged food business was taken over by Sadanand Maiya and the restaurant was continued by Harishchandra Maiya. MTR Foods, the packaged food division, was sold to Orkla of Norway in 2007.
Today the MTR restaurant still stands in the same place it did more than 50 years ago. Harishchandra Maiya passed away in 1999. The business is now run by his three children – Hemamalini Maiya, Vikram Maiya and Arvind Maiya. From a standalone restaurant, MTR expanded into a restaurant chain, as the second branch in Rajaji Nagar was inaugurated in 2004. MTR opened its first international restaurant in 2013 in Singapore.
There are nearly 2,500 walk-ins each day during the weekends, apart from around 1,500 others who drop by just for coffee. Public holidays and Sundays see MTR serving nearly 1,000 masala dosas, 800 plates of rava idli, 800 plates of poori, with about 300 litres of milk used. Nearly 200 litres of onion sambar, and vegetable sambar are prepared each weekend, reports the Hindu.
Sadanand Maiya has clung to his purist tastes. “I can explain this with my own example. I am a ‘food’ man, I should not go into real estate. In food so many new things are happening, but as a group we have stuck to tradition.”
Asked if he has ever thought of coming up with an innovative name for a traditional snack, based on a Karnatic raga, Maiya’s eyes light up. Maybe we will soon chew on a Karaharapriya or a Shuddha Dhanyasi….