Friday, November 4, 2011

Footpath to foodpath

'Dosa King' with former president Abdul Kalam

I had written about Ganapathy 12 years ago for The Times of India supplement when he started his Dosa Plaza outlet in Navi Mumbai. Now, this humble villager from Tamil Nadu has become the owner of the world’s largest dosa chain, including 3 in New Zealand, 2 in Dubai and several in India. I interviewed him again in Dubai last week for our Panorama magazine. I hope you find this inspiring. 

It is the story of a man who literally started from scratch. Prem Ganapathy left his village in Tamil Nadu after a friend promised him a job in Mumbai, but found himself abandoned in the pulsating city. Penniless but not hopeless, Ganapathy started his professional life as a dishwasher and has churned out a success story that is as delicious as it is inspiring. His Dosa Plaza now has 40 outlets in India, three in New Zealand, one in Dubai and expanding in the UAE.
“For the first time in the UAE, we are offering 104 varieties of dosas. It is a sort of record. In a world increasingly dominated by junk food, people are looking out for something healthy that blends taste with quality and that’s where we step in,” explains Ganapathy, while chatting amid the hustle and bustle that characterises the
Dosa Plaza outlet at Qusais.
Dosa or Dhosai is a type of pancake made from batter of rice and black lentils. It is a staple dish in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also commonly known in
Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. In Myanmar, it goes by the name “Toshay.”
At the Qusais outlet, dosas are offered with an international twist. People can choose from the 104 types of dosas on offer that include Chinese and Mexican-style fusions such as Schezwan dosa (Plain, Mushroom, Paneer), Mexi roll dosa, Paneer Chilly dosa and other uttappam/ pizza types, besides the traditional south Indian favourites.
“This is fast food on the go,” avers Ganapathy. “Our vision is to become the leading brand serving traditional south Indian cuisine worldwide with an oriental and Western taste, delivering quality food, efficient service and value for money.”
How well does the menu gel with the Arab taste?
“Quite a few Arabs visit us,” says Ganapathy gleefully. “Some hesitate after seeing the atypical, all-vegetarian menu. But we offer them samples and they get bowled over by the taste. Most Arabs prefer the Arabian Delight varieties that are less spicy. They also like salad-based dosas.”
The “Dosa King,” as he is fondly called by friends, is thoroughly delighted with the response in the UAE and is planning a Gulf-wide expansion. A new outlet will be opened in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi soon and also in Australia.
But he does worry that his novel recipes may be picked up by rival businesses. Hence, he decided to “trademark” 27 of his dosas across
Ganapathy’s has not been a life laid on a sugary path. In fact, he had to contend with scorching challenges. When he left his native village in Tuticorin and reached the never-sleep-city, Mumbai, he hardly imagined that a friend he trusted most would ditch him after promising a job. To add to his misery, he did not know the local language. After spending months as a dishwasher at a bakery in Mahim, he started serving tea to customers. As an enthusiastic employee, he kept a note of customers’ tastes and loved chatting with them.
A particular customer was moved by his dedication and offered him partnership for a tea shop in Vashi. The business was encouraging, but the owner indulged in foul play and refused to share profit. A dejected Ganapathy went back to his village, only to return after taking a minor loan from relatives. 
This time he was more determined to make it big. He rented a roadside stall in Vashi and started serving dosas for nearly five years. The stall then expanded into a restaurant outside the crowded Vashi railway station. He widened the menu and injected innovation by bringing out several varieties of dosas. The eatery became popular and the local media highlighted his entrepreneurship. A young, Net-savvy relative helped him launch his website. 
At the same time, McDonald’s opened its first outlet in the Vashi area. Inspired by its success story, Ganapathy was lured to the idea of franchises. This led to an impressive expansion. The restaurant grew from a single company-owned outlet to a chain by venturing and tying up with other companies throughout
India. The restaurants are owned and operated through both company-owned and franchisee models, thus ensuring rapid growth.
It is not always that an enterprise is born from the wisdom of the corridors of a business school. Dedication, innovation and challenging spirit are what form a successful recipe. Ganapathy did not have to go to a B-school to learn all this. He gained his insights straight from the dusty but vibrant streets of Mumbai. And now, he is rightly reaping the sweet fruits of hard labour.


  1. superb!

    thats 'what they dont teach u at Harvard business school'!

  2. an inspiring story !. Dosa has definitely come a long way and kudos to the owner of dosa plaza for popularising around the world.

  3. WHat a great person , I find it very amusing when someone from so small goes up so high .. Not many can do it .. usually its the rich who get richer ..

    well done to him .. and thanks for sharing this with us


  4. Its a very special person
    it was nice to read
    very well written !!

    Have a nice week-end

  5. wow.. that is so much inspiring.. and you did a great job in telling others about him too.. actually i have read about Ganapathy somewhere else too. .don't know where..

  6. 'Dosa King' deserves his success and fame. Never say die!

  7. congrats for the interview ramesh bhai

  8. it was nice to know..and inspiring too!

    great blog too!

  9. How so inspiring!
    Thanks for sharing.