Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR) – A Lasting Legacy
MTR has never let up on its commitment to quality and convenience, or on adapting to meet the needs of its customers.
In 1920, Maiya brothers from Kota, a small village near Udupi in South Canara, moved to Bengaluru to find work. They had been cooking in the homes of the well-to-do before being persuaded to open their restaurant. One of their employers had encouraged Parameshwara to start a small hotel. The Brahmin Coffee Club first opened its doors in 1924 on Lalbagh Fort Road, selling coffee and idlis.
After two years, the eldest Maiya brother, Rama, returned to his homeland, leaving his younger brothers, Parameshwara and Ganappayya, in charge of the eatery. Yagnanarayana Maiya, often known as “Yagnappa,” took over the restaurant from his brother, the late Parameshwara. Back in 1936, Ganappayya Maiya made up his mind to return to his home town. From this point on, Yagnanarayana was in control of everything at the eatery.
In 1960, when it moved to a bigger building, the name was changed to reflect this. To avoid giving the impression of being exclusive, Yagnanarayana renamed the establishment the “Mavalli Tiffin Room,” after the neighbourhood in which it is located.
Yagnanarayana’s love of experimentation extended to the cuisine at MTR. One of the main attractions, rava idli, was created in response to rice scarcity during World War II. After the conflict was over, every respectable South Indian restaurant began serving it.
Bisibele bath, the original Mysore dish is far less spicy than the MTR version, which is why the restaurant still uses his adapted recipe. The MTR’s bisibele bath is so ubiquitous that a diner might be forgiven for thinking it’s the real deal.
Inventions including ice cream made with a combination of canned fruit were also introduced. Once again, this MTR dish went on to become a cultural symbol and remains a best-seller to this day. Sambar, khara bath, and other MTR-favourite foods were originally improvised recipes that Yagnanarayana later standardised. The foods he mentioned are now considered “traditional,” yet back then they were revolutionary.
His confection, called “French Sweet,” is a fried biscuit dipped in a milk-khoa-almond kheer reminiscent of the French puff pastry. Initially unsuccessful, he rechristened it Chandrahara, after a local theatre’s top-grossing film. and it became a success.
He left for England in 1951 to study the industry there. His visit left him awestruck by the spotless conditions, and he promptly instituted a system of steam sterilization for all of the restaurant’s silverware, plates, and cups. It is still in place at MTR, and customers are welcome to go into the kitchens to check the cleanliness themselves. For this reason, cleanliness has become an integral part of the MTR brand and continues to inspire a great deal of faith from customers.
Even coffee cups and saucers were visible to Yagnanarayana. When he got back to Bangalore, he made the call to start serving food from china there as well. The family section abandoned its long-standing practice of serving coffee in tumblers in favour of kettles. Several further steps followed, such as the distribution of pocket-sized leaflets instructing clients on proper table manners. The dining hall rules included not combing hair, not leaving curry leaves on the table, and so on. Customers were being taught proper etiquette, and they didn’t seem to mind.
The restaurant’s original mosaic walls and red oxide floors, its curved and smooth entrances (a criterion cited in the erstwhile corporation rules that commercial establishments should not have sharp-edged doors), and the cosy and exclusive Coffee Room, a chamber where only coffee is served, all lend an air of antiquity to the space.
Harishchandra Maiya, Yagnanarayana’s nephew, took control when he died away in 1968.
When the Emergency was proclaimed in 1976, the government contacted five of the city’s most popular restaurants, including MTR, and ordered them to lower the pricing of their meals to government-approved rates, making it more affordable for the average citizen.
All of the eateries were expected to charge the same pricing for the same menu items. While some eateries made the change, others began to lower their standards. The MTR system accomplished none of these goals. Outside the restaurant, MTR posted a sign detailing the day’s losses while maintaining the same high standard of cuisine as before. For 16 days, MTR kept up this pace. It ceased operations on day 16.
MTR avoided laying off its dedicated personnel by expanding into new product lines, including powdered and canned varieties of rasam and sambar, idli and dosa batter, rava idli pre-mixes, bisi bele bath masala, and ready-to-eat mixes.
Next to the hotel, MTR had erected a store where they sold various mixes and other goods. After the Emergency was declared over, business at the eatery resumed as usual.
The sole evidence of Harishchandra’s reign that has survived to the present day is the silverware used to serve coffee in silver cups. Harishchandra thought that the big feasts MTR made for important people would be the restaurant’s lasting legacy, but he was disappointed to find out that regulars were not invited to these events. Consequently, in 1996, he introduced the limitless thali, also known as the madhuve oota, which included approximately 30 dishes for the absurd initial price of Rs.50; nowadays, between 12.30 and 5 p.m., MTR sells out of about 1,000 thalis. Today, it has been adjusted to Rs270 with a limited number of items
The scheduling of the menu is widely known to the regulars. Wednesday nights are reserved for honey halwa, Thursday for banana kesari baths, Friday for badam halwa, and Saturday for rava dosa. Every Sunday, the kitchen is rushed to produce roughly a thousand dosas, hundreds of rava idlis, and lunches. Each member of the assembly line has been assigned a distinct mission, and they are all working at full speed. At MTR, ghee is the most important thing, so it’s always in a small tumbler next to the rava idli, dosa, and bisi bele bath. It is a highly guarded secret how much of each kind of rice goes into the dosa batter, as well as the ratio of rasam powder to bisi bele bath. It is MTR’s constancy that has led to its success.
Sadananda Maiya, the head, came up with the brilliant idea to capitalise on the company’s well-known name to sell something altogether new: food in a package.
In 1983, the family company split in two: the restaurant and the packaged food business. After Harishchandra died in 1999, his children Hemamalini, Vikram, and Arvind took over MTR. Yagnarayana’s son Sadanand Maiya inherited the packaged food company in 1992.
After rebranding as MTR Foods Ltd., Maiya kept making the mix and expanded into additional packaged foods such as spices, special spice mixes, and pickles. The items did well on the market because MTR is known as a reliable brand and has an excellent reputation for quality.
By the 1980s, the items were sold in local grocery stores, and the goal was to make them an essential part of every cook’s toolbox for making authentic and delicious Indian food. In 1983, the company started selling its products in places other than Chennai, like Hyderabad and Vijayawada.
Sadanand Maiya opened Maiya’s Restaurant after selling MTR Foods to the Norwegian food company, Orkla in the 90s. MTR continues to be a favourite in Bangalore