One of the other proponents of Udupi cuisine has been K. Krishna Rao, famous for his Woodlands brand of hotels
On October 21, 1898, K. Krishna Rao was born in Kadandale, a village not far from Mangalore. His dad was a local priest and Ayurvedic doctor, and the family owned a few acres of property. He dropped out of school at a young age and is now functionally illiterate because his parents insisted that he assist with household tasks. Due to financial difficulties at home, Krishna Rao needed to start working at a young age. An uncle arranged for Krishna Rao to work in the kitchen at the Puthige mutt in Udupi and thus started his career in the food service industry. After that, he got a job as the priest’s personal assistant at another mutt and at a local restaurant.
On his brother-in-law’s recommendation, he moved to Chennai in the early 1920s. During his time in Chennai, he held the roles of cleaner, helper, waiter, and junior cook in a hotel. The restaurant’s owner was so pleased with his efforts that he promoted him to run one of the hotels on Acharappan Street in Georgetown. In 1925, Krishna Rao’s boss offered to sell him one of his eateries for Rs. 700, with payments spread out over a period of time.
Krishna Rao left George Town in 1926–1927 to establish two eateries on Mount Road, then known as “the land of the Sahibs.” There was not “even one good vegetarian restaurant” in the whole downtown area. In collaboration with the proprietor of the neighbouring Udupi Hotel, he established the Udupi Sri Krishna Vilas. When Krishna Rao and his business partner went their separate ways in 1933, he got the Udupi Hotel. In time, he bought the previous owner out and acquired Udupi Sri Krishna Vilas as well.
Among the several estates owned by Shanmukha Rajeswara, or Naganatha Setupathi, Rajah of Ramnad, was one in Royapettah, only a short distance from the former Madras Club, which is now the site of the Express Estate shopping centre. Located on an expansive 16.5 acres Before he settled on Cenotaph Road, the Rajah made his home in this city mansion. In 1937, contractor Muni Venkatappa bought the property with the intention of opening a hotel there. He was having trouble managing it, so in 1938, he rented it out to K. Krishna Rao.
Krishna Rao leased the Royapettah site and built the first Woodlands Hotel, a business that has since been very successful across the globe. The hotel offered 45 rooms at Rs. 5 per day. Krishna Rao would personally wait at Central Railway Station to attract potential visitors. Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar was in charge of the Music Academy’s annual conference that year, which gave the hotel a lot of publicity. M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, N.C. Vasanthakokilam, and others of the 1940s elite made it their home. A small aircraft crashed in the yard during the war years, just one of many challenges. When India gained its freedom in 1947, Rajaji had a tea party on these grounds to celebrate.
When Krishna Rao’s lease ended in 1952, the hotel’s proprietors declined to extend it, so he invested in property on Dr. Radhakrishna Road in Mylapore and opened it as the “New Woodlands Hotel.” So that people can tell it apart from the original hotel in Royapettah, which still operates. The latter remained popular despite the former’s huge popularity, and it was here that Rajaji introduced his Swatantra Party to the world in 1959. The area was also often used as a backdrop for films and photographs.
He grew his business to include not just London, New York, and Singapore but also Bangalore, Coimbatore, Salem, Ahmedabad, New Delhi, and Bombay. He passed away in the year 1990. His sons now run many of his businesses, including hotels and restaurants. In life, Krishna Rao often “advised, taught, and blessed” his cashiers, receptionists, and suppliers who went into business for themselves and sometimes used the moniker “Woodlands.”