Chennai: A tree as inspiration for a restaurant chain? The owners of Adyar Ananda Bhavan say they were inspired to grow into the nearly 150-branch A2B chain by the fabled banyan tree that sprawls over 40,000sqft on the grounds of the Theosophical Society at Adyar.
A2B now operates in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi. It has outlets in the US, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia too.
The story begins in the 1960s with K S Thirupathi Raja opening a small sweet stall, Sri Guru Sweets, at Rajapalayam in Virudhunagar. A decade later, he shifted base to Bangalore in 1975 and opened Sri Sreenivasa Sweets. That’s when his two sons – K T Venkatesan and K T Srinivasa Raja – joined him.
In 1980, Thirupathi Raja started Sri Ananda Bhavan Sweets at Washermenpet in north Chennai. The name changed to Adyar Ananda Bhavan when it reached the city’s south in the late 1980s.
“We wanted to create a brand for our sweet shop. The banyan tree is very popular in Adyar. Inspired by the widespread aerial roots of the tree, a conscious decision was taken to name our sweet shop Adyar Ananda Bhavan in 1988 in the hope that it will multiply, while retaining its local connect,” says Srinivasa Raja, director, Adyar Ananda Bhavan Sweets India Private Ltd.
What started as simple sweets and savouries retail chain, soon added chats and snacks to the menu in the late 1990s. “In the year 2000, we ventured into the restaurant vertical in the name of AsquareB, taking off from the popular Y2K that ushered in the IT revolution. But kids identified our logo as A2B and it gave us the spark to launch our first restaurant named A2B in Puducherry in 2004,” says Srinivasa Raja.
A2B’s success has spawned imitators. “Anyone can replicate us, but who is the pioneer is important. We started at the bottom by learning from our father to cook and to manage shops and sales. Our journey spans four decades,” he says.
And it hasn’t been easy managing a business that employs 18,000 people at last count. Not all new branches brought in the revenue expected either. While A2B was the first big restaurant chains to establish outlets on the highways, competition has grown. “If you take Ulundurpet region (on the Chennai-Trichy section of the national highway), there are 50 restaurants dotting the highway now,” says Srinivasa Raja.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought in its own challenges. But with the situation easing, the restaurant chain is back to regular business. A2B will soon open new branches in Dubai and London.
The third generation has entered the fray now. “About 15 of our family members are involved in the operations,” says Srinivasa Raja. It is mandatory for all, management and employees, to wear uniforms while at work.
Srinivasa Raja may not recall the names of all the sweets, savouries and other dishes the restaurant chain now offers, but a few dishes that have their origins in Rajapalayam remain popular. “The puli kuzhambu has the taste of Rajapalayam. This apart, Rajapalayam thattai is one of our popular products,” he signs off.