Hari Kotian, along with his brother, Prasad, speak of how they tweaked their family Udupi restaurant into a fast food chain in Mumbai.
From living in a Mumbai slum to owning a restaurant chain in Maximum City, Hari Kotian agrees his life has definitely changed for the better. Though he still remembers the days where his mother couldn’t pay his school fees and how his father succumbed to alcoholism.
But reminiscing about the days gone by, Hari narrates how he and his brother, Prasad, rebuilt their restaurant business thanks to years of perseverance, a self help push and one of Mumbai’s favourite street foods — Pav Bhaji.
‘We didn’t have money for school fees’
Hari’s parents, Kutty and Nalini Kotai, came to Mumbai from a small village in Mangalore in the year 1950. His father had only passed Class IV and his mother was a housewife. Kutty began working as a waiter in his brother’s restaurant and saved every last penny.
In 1965, Kutty managed to start two restaurants of his own in Matunga by the name — Shree Durga Parmeshwari Bhuvan. “It was a 40-seater Udupi restaurant that served samosas, dosas, pulao, thalis and chai, opposite Ruia college,” says Hari.
The 53-year-old adds, “When I was barely a year old, one of the restaurants was destroyed as the building it was in collapsed. My father, who once detested alcohol, began drinking a lot and eventually died because of it. As there was no one who could look after the business, my family had to give the second restaurant on rent.”
Hari grew up with his sister Vaishali, his eldest brother Prasad, younger brother Vinayak and his mother in a one-room kitchen in a slum area in Dadar. “Our school would send unpaid fee notices, threatening to kick me out of school. Although, the fees were about Rs 7-8 that time, we couldn’t manage. My mother would then somehow arrange for the money and pay my school fees,” he recalls.
But things started to change when Hari turned 16. With the help of his brother, Prasad, they took over the family restaurant business. “We put in a lot of hard work into the restaurant,” says Prasad. The 55-year-old adds, “I skipped my Class 10 board exam because I had to be at the restaurant everyday to support my younger brothers’ education.
Hari went on to complete his catering course from Dadar Catering School. He adds, “We took a loan of Rs 60,000 to try hard to make the restaurant business profitable but it did not help.”
Self help to the rescue
As a last resort, the brother duo began selling ice cream outside their restaurant and also took catering orders. “We were earning about Rs 5,000 from the sale of ice creams alone but our restaurant earnings didn’t exceed Rs 3000,” adds Hari.
A turning point in his life came when Hari took a self help course at the age of 24. “One day, I was selling ice cream, when a person came and started sharing about a self help course he conducted in Mumbai’s KC college. I immediately paid the fees and attended the four day course,” he says.
He adds, “After taking the course, I began taking responsibility for my entire family and the restaurant business. I even told my mother that I was going to change everything and improve the family’s situation no matter what.”
It was in 1993 when Hari then took loans from colleagues, banks and relatives to rebuild his restaurant business. “I took a cumulative loan of Rs 16 lakhs in the span of one and a half year to renovate the restaurant and add new dishes to the menu. We even changed the restaurant’s name to DP’s Fast Food as the previous one was too long,” Hari says.
The hotelier specialised in making Pav Bhaji and even won acclaim for it. “I have trained eight cooks to make my style of Pav Bhaji. It is a special dish of DP’s Fast Food,” says Hari, adding that they also serve Chinese cuisine, South Indian dishes along with fast food dishes at the restaurant, which are popular with the college students.
Today, DP’s Fast Food restaurant is available in four locations in Mumbai — Matunga, Dadar, Chembur and Ghatkopar. “We managed to repay the Rs 16 lakh loan in five years. Currently, our restaurant turnover is Rs 5 crores,” Hari says and adds that they now have 45 employees.
Prasad adds, “We never dreamed that we would ever get this far, but somewhere we knew we would succeed.”
Though Hari credits their success to the self help course he took. He now conducts similar courses all over India as well as foreign countries with the help of Landmark Forum — a personal development company.
“I believe one needs to be very courageous to take action to face any situation. It was courage that made me promise myself that I will change my situation and I took every possible action to make my dreams a success,” says Hari.
Prasad adds, “My mother, who died two years ago, was very happy with our success and she would be proud of us today knowing our hard work paid off.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)