Unforgotten Brands: Sagar Ratna


Sagar Ratna and Jayaram Banan’s journey is a testament to perseverance, hard work, and the pursuit of excellence in the food industry

One of seven children, Jayaram Banan had a harsh upbringing with an abusive father. His father, a driver by profession, punished him severely, even using chilli powder on his eyes when he performed poorly in school.

At the age of 13, after failing his exams, Banan stole money from his father’s wallet and ran away from home.

He boarded a Mumbai-bound bus, where he was found crying by a fellow villager from Udupi. This kind villager took him to the Hindustan Organic Chemicals (HOC) canteen in Panvel, Navi Mumbai, where Banan secured his first job as a dishwasher for Rs 18 a month. In those days, many people from Udupi and South Kanara moved to Mumbai in search of work, often bringing their culinary traditions with them.

Banan’s dedication and hard work paid off, and he quickly moved up from washing dishes to serving tables, and then from waiter to head waiter to manager. Over the next eight years, he honed his skills in the food industry at HOC, earning Rs 200 a month by the end of his tenure. These years kindled his entrepreneurial spirit, and he dreamed of opening his eatery.

Initially, Banan considered opening a South Indian restaurant in Mumbai but abandoned the idea due to the high competition. Instead, he moved to Delhi in 1973, where his brother managed a Udupi restaurant. Soon after relocating, he married his wife, Prema.

In 1974, Banan seized an opportunity to run the canteen at Ghaziabad’s newly established Central Electronics Ltd. (CEL). With an investment of less than Rs 2,000, he employed three cooks and ensured that quality meals were served. His delicious food and humble demeanour quickly made the canteen a success.

During this time, authentic Udupi cuisine was rare in Delhi. The only options for dosas were either from Haldiram’s or two expensive restaurants, Woodlands at the Lodhi Hotel and Dasaprakasa at the Ambassador. Sensing a market gap, Banan aimed to offer high-quality dosas and idlis at street food prices.

On December 4, 1986, he opened his first restaurant in Delhi’s Defence Colony market with his savings of Rs 5,000. Named ‘Sagar,’ the 40-seater outlet served South Indian staples like idli, dosa, and sambar. Despite an initial daily sale of Rs 408, high rent meant early financial losses. However, Banan’s unwavering commitment to quality and long working hours ensured that sales steadily increased.

As Sagar gained popularity, Banan expanded its seating capacity by renting the space above the restaurant. Even with the additional space, long lines of customers became a common sight. In 1991, Banan acquired Woodlands, the restaurant he once competed against. With the proceeds from his successful Defence Colony outlet, he gave Woodlands a fancy makeover, renamed it Sagar Ratna, and increased prices by 20%.

Sagar Ratna’s rapid growth saw it expand to 35 outlets across the city, attracting patrons from all walks of life, including prominent politicians like Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In 1999, Banan opened his first franchise outlet in Ludhiana, setting Rs 60 lakh as the minimum investment for a Sagar Ratna franchise. Over the next fifteen years, the brand added 36 franchise outlets in cities like Chandigarh, Meerut, and Gurgaon, and even expanded internationally to the USA, UK, Australia, and Singapore.

As Sagar Ratna flourished, Banan decided to diversify into coastal cuisine. In 2001, he opened the first Swagath outlet in Defence Colony, offering rare South Indian seafood dishes. Swagath quickly became a hit, known for its exotic coastal cuisines from Mangaluru, Chettinad, and the Malabar regions. Swagath was named one of Asia’s top seafood restaurants by the Miele Guide in 2005.

Today, Banan’s empire includes 100+ outlets across North India, comprising both Sagar Ratna and Swagath restaurants. The chain’s annual turnover has soared from Rs 12 crore in 2000 to about Rs 200 crore.

In August 2011, New York-based private equity firm India Equity Partners (IEP) invested Rs 180 crore to acquire a 75% stake in Sagar Ratna, appointing a new CEO and renaming the chain the Jayaram Banan Group (JRB). Banan retained 22.7% equity and became the chairman, with a vision of expanding the brand nationwide.

By October 2013, disagreements with IEP led Banan to buy back his shares. Along with his son Roshan, who joined him in running the JRB Group, Banan ventured into other allied businesses. The group now owns star-category hotels, budget hotels, industrial canteens, and a bakery, and sells packaged snacks, pickles, and ready-to-eat meals.

Undeterred by past challenges, Banan continues to innovate. He recently launched Shraman, a new chain catering to the Marwari and Jain communities, serving vegetarian food without garlic and onion. He emphasizes the need to adapt to market demands and grow organically.

Banan’s ventures employ around 10,000 people, many from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. His commitment to giving back to society is evident in his charitable endeavours, such as the Sagar Ratna restaurant in Karkala, Udupi, which serves full meals for Rs 10 in memory of his parents.

Despite his success, Banan remains humble, welcoming guests personally at his restaurants, a practice that endears him to customers. From a runaway child to a restaurant tycoon, Jayaram Banan’s journey is a testament to perseverance, hard work, and the pursuit of excellence in the food industry.




For consultation and advice - https://topmate.io/vejay_anand_s

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *