The Bhave Experiment
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air, the taste of crispy, hot dosa melting in the mouth with the spicy rasam teasing the taste buds and the pleasant chatter of friends falling onto the ears is what defines Wadeshwar, a famous eatery in Pune, that is renowned for its South Indian fare. Above Wadeshwar is the well-known Krishna Dining Hall which is famous for its authentic Maharashtrian cuisine. Both these dining places offer diametrically different food items and cater to different tastes and set of people too, but they share a common link, and that is that, both the places are owned by the same person. The places are the fruits of success and labour of love of Mr Shriram Bhave, who has found the nerve to the often critical Punekar’s taste buds and has them asking for more.
Shriram Bhave – the man behind the famous restaurants
Trials and errors are part and parcel of becoming an entrepreneur as they constantly help to learn something new and allow entrepreneurs to innovate themselves and thus experiments are constantly being carried out by business owners in order to earn money and find success and fame. Similarly, Mr Shriram Bhave’s experiments not only earned him name, fame and money but also proved to be the key to the culinary satisfaction of each of his customers.
Shriram Bhave and his early days
He is the man behind the famous South Indian restaurant, Wadeshwar, which has several branches across the city as well as the owner of Krishna Dining Hall, Smile Stone Restaurant near Ahmednagar on the Pune-Nagar highway, and Kalpak Catering Service. Shriram Bhave along with his partner Ravindra Athavale and their respective families are involved in the running of all of these places and catering to as well as satisfying thousands of customers.
Many might wonder about the connection between a Maharashtrian man and the humble South Indian idli but there is an interesting tale behind it and relates to Mr Bhave’s early days and his foray into the food business.
While in college Shriram feel in love with a girl and on his family’s insistence married her too, although he wasn’t financially settled and independent by then. He had to find a way to earn for his family and his father offered him the choice of either doing a job or entering into a business. He chose the latter without a second’s hesitation. He had the option of handling his father’s dairy farm but he opted for managing the Pune University’s canteen named ‘Aniket’ when the opportunity presented itself in the year 1970. However, when he took up this task he did not even know how to make tea by himself but with the help of his mother and wife he taught the staff of the canteen basic cooking skills and the results were evident in the form of positive feedback from the students. During this time, on his friend Ravindra Athavale’s suggestion, he even completed a formal course from the Food Kraft Institute.
The birth of the perfect idli
Even though the students noticed an improvement in the food quality, Bhave himself felt there was room for improvement especially in the case of the idli prepared at the canteen. He set out to conduct several experiments, along with Ravindra Athavale, within a span of two to three months, to improve the quality of idli by trying varied styles to prepare it and by altering the amount and quality of black gram to prepare idli batter of differing consistencies. He kept a record of all his experiments and knew the exact proportions and method to make the perfect idli every single time. This was in the year 1977, when idli was available in only a handful of South indian eateries. Having mastered the art of making the perfect idli, Bhave wanted to open an exclusive joint offering only idli and chutney, which was unheard of in those days, and to do so he opened a small restaurant on Bajirao road, at a place his father owned, along with his partner Ravindra Athavale. This is how Wadeshwar was born and though Mr Athavale is no more, his support was vital for Bhave at every step in his journey as an entrepreneur.
Shriram Bhave took the bold step and opened the restaurant but there were no customers initially. So he had to invite people and insist on them trying his idli. These customers really liked the idli and started frequenting the restaurant often for the same despite the place being small with not enough furniture, owing to lack of funds.
Around the same time in 1971, Mr Bhave started a coffee house on Tilak road named as ‘Mukta’, which was a hit among the people from day one. The customers appreciated everything available at the cafe, right from the filter coffee to the espresso, but owing to limited and restricted space there was no scope to expand it further, despite the excellent response. Credit must be given to his clarity of thought to continue focusing on Wadeshwar and accept the limitations of location of Mukta Coffee house instead of turning his attention vice versa and banking in on the popularity of Mukta at the cost of neglecting Wadeshwar.
Meanwhile, Wadeshwar was fast gaining popularity for its idli, with a steady rise in the number of customers, and Bhave further expanded the menu by introducing utappa and dosa.
Spreading the wings further
Shriram continued to manage the Pune University canteen too and further in 1989 started Kalpak Caterers when people started asking for his services to cater to small parties. In 1994, he opened an MTDC Canteen in Mahabaleshwar named Venna Restaurant, which even found mention in the international tourism magazine ‘Follower’ as a must visit place while in Mahabaleshwar. However, in 2000 he had to shut down this restaurant and even opted out of managing the Aniket canteen in 1996 in spite of the fabulous response from the students because Wadeshwar had really started doing well and demanded more undivided attention.
At the same time in 1996, he considered opening a restaurant on the highway leading to Nagar along with his partner Prasanna Patwardhan, named Smile Stone Restaurant. In order to attend to objectives like deciding on the location of the new restaurant, its construction, the menu that will appeal to travelers, the number of buses halting at the restaurant, etc, he had to close down Mukta Coffee house too. After studying and considering all the factors, Smile Stone opened to the public in 1998. However, in those days not many people owned a vehicle and relied on buses and public transport to travel and all the buses initially did not stop at Smile Stone. Gradually the number of buses stopping at the restaurant increased and even the number of those traveling on their own increased along with their frequency of stopping over at Smile Stone. Post 2012, Smile Stone Restaurant started growing exponentially.
Family entering into the business
By 2000 Bhave’s son, Swanand Bhave, too entered the business and handled the entire responsibility of managing Wadeshwar. The second branch of Wadeshwar was opened in 2002 at Fergusson College Road and in order to advertise it came up with the innovative idea of ‘eat what you want, pay what you want’, which got a good response. Fergusson College Road already had two famous restaurants which served South Indian fare but Bhave and his son took the risk with Wadeshwar on FC road. They relied on the quality of their food and even introduced items like ‘pav bhaji’, ‘thalipeeth’ and low calorie foods, spoiling the customers for choice. But their South Indian fare was still more sought after.
Like the experiments conducted with the idli, they conducted several other similar experiments to set a standard quality and taste for all the items. The chutney prepared from fresh coconut, for instance was discarded post 2 to 3 hours from making it because it used to develop a stench and the taste changed too. Similarly high quality standards are followed for all the menu options, including tea and coffee, where the coffee is made using the internationally branded machine, ‘Fresh and Honest’.
Post receiving post response to the Fergusson College Road branch, several branches of Wadeshwar were opened across the city and presently has branches at Bajirao Road, Law College Road, Pavilion Mall (Senapati Bapat Road), Market Yard, Baner and Aundh. Professionals have been roped into maintain a uniform look in terms of design and colour, to achieve a cool and calm atmosphere across all branches.
The second generation too entered into the business, when Swanand’s son Kaushik Bhave took up the responsibility of setting up a branch of Wadeshwar at Pavilion Mall. Kaushik had academically trained in Catering but in order to gain experience, handled all the tasks of opening the new branch, right from meeting the landowner, purchasing the land, deciding the interiors to finally opening the place to the public.
Shriram Bhave’s wife, Sampada Bhave, manages Krishna Dining Hall which was started by the family soon after closing down Venna Restaurant. Her entering into the management of this restaurant also has an interesting back story. Earlier, whenever she visited any restaurant, Sampada Bhave constantly criticised the food and so Mr Bhave asked her to prepare food as per her liking while handing over the management of Krishna Dining Hall to her. From the beginning of this duty itself she stressed on incorporating more vegetables into the dishes and personally decided upon the taste of each dish, which soon gained popularity among the customers and the number of people visiting the restaurant increased steadily.
Presently, Swanand and his wife oversee the task of taste being maintained at Wadeshwar while Shriram Bhave himself handles the Kalpak Catering Services which currently provides services to Suvarnasmruti, Munot Hall, Shubharambh Lawns and Atharva Lawns.
Secret to success
The secret to their success is maintaining the same taste. They serve close to 500 to 600 dishes at their restaurants and each one has a standard taste, prepared with the same measurements and using similarly chopped vegetables, cooked at a standard temperature with the ingredients being added in the uniform sequence. To maintain this standard and to obtain the high quality they need to ensure that the same instructions are being followed and had to employ one person to monitor each cook individually. At the same time the Bhaves embrace technology too but only where needed. For instance, they felt that by chopping onions with the food processor they got spoilt faster as compared to that chopped by hand. But they did use technology where needed to ease the task of producing food on a large scale.
Lessons learnt from the entreprising Bhave family
One of the secrets to the success of the Bhave family is the insistence on quality. They take great efforts to maintain the high standard of quality for all their food dishes across all the branches. Also, they consider the suggestions made by the customers seriously instead of viewing it as complaints.
Additionally, one of the biggest hurdles in this industry is the hiring of and maintaining the staff at the restaurants. Shriram Bhave respected his staff and never let them down. For example when he closed down the Venna Restaurant he got all the employees from there to Pune and gave them jobs at Krishna Dining Hall.
Shriram Bhave also never shied away from experimenting and perfecting his recipes and dishes to give the best to his customers and to maintain a high quality. The sincerity and dedication he displayed towards perfecting his dish displayed skills that every businessman should always strive to imbibe in his/her work ethic.
Today, Wadeshwar and all the other restaurants have hordes of people visiting it for a meal, which is in sharp contrast to the time when Shriram Bhave had to request people to visit their restaurant at least once. People now wait in queue to get a seat at any of the restaurants and all of this has been due to the hard work, dedication and efforts of Shriram Bhave and his family. He has found the elicxir to satiate the taste buds of the otherwise discerning and critical Punekars who are known to be food lovers.
The success achieved by Shriram Bhave is nothing but a validation of the success of the ‘Bhave Experiment’.