Ask any Hyderabadi where you can eat the best dosa or idli in the city, and they will point you to Ram Ki Bandi. Well-known for buttery dosas and soft idlis, this pushcart (bandi) was started in 1989 by a humble man named Lakshman Rao Shinde.
“My father bought the cart using most of his savings, as a means of earning a livelihood for our family. We made our ends meet with whatever he earned. This included the fees for my education,” recalls Lakshman’s son Ram Kumar Shinde (35), who has now taken over his father’s business.
The recipe of success
Despite being in a state of financial crisis, Lakshman Rao worked hard to save money and educate his son. Initially, he started by preparing plain dosas and idli, and served them with sambar and chutney. While the family’s income was less, it was enough to get them to the next day.
Lakshman did not have any helpers except his eight-year-old son, Ram.
“I would help out at the bandi every day. My father would park it at different locations to attract different crowds. We would start our day at 5 am, and I would help around until 8 am. I would wash vessels, cut vegetables, help in the cooking process, and serve customers. Then, I would leave for school,” says Ram.
After graduating from school, Ram went on to pursue his higher education and completed his Master’s in Business Administration from a university in Hyderabad.
“In 2010, I used to visit fancy tech parks to attend interviews at various companies, but would never accept their offers because the salary was mediocre. Deep down, I had a voice telling me that my future would not be stable with the money they would pay me. So I decided to join my father’s business,” says Ram.
Image Credit: Humans of Hyderabad.
‘A unique experience’
Ram took over in 2011, and began following the same routine as his father. But soon, he noticed that their income remained unchanged as well. They were up against bigger outlets in the business, and most of their customers were those in a hurry to grab a quick meal.
“We did not have enough money to start a big restaurant. On most days, I was spending more for the stall than I could earn from it. So I decided to add variety to our menu, and introduced the same dishes with a twist. So we had schezwan dosas, tawa idlis, cheese dosas, pizza dosas and more,” says Ram, adding that word about these dosas spread fast around the city, and hungry customers began pouring in.
The plain dosas were priced around Rs 50, while the new dosas were priced over Rs 100. However, it was the pizza dosa, priced at Rs 150, that was selling like hot cakes. Ram says that even today, this is a favourite among his patrons.
Since the stall was open early in the morning, customers visiting the premises included daily wage workers, businessmen and office-goers alike.
“One day, when we were parked at Nampally, which is our regular spot, one of the customers asked me if we would open earlier. He said that most employees leaving from the night shift at 3 am would benefit from our delicious breakfast,” says Ram.
The very next day, the father-son duo opened their stall at 3 am to serve hungry office-goers returning home until 8 am. It was the biggest sale they ever made, serving over 100 customers in a day. Since then, to date, the Nampally stall opens the earliest.
In early 2020, Ram got an offer from two regular customers, Sachin and Harsh Jain, to expand Ram Ki Bandi. They were willing to offer an investment so that Ram could set up more stalls across the city.
“They believed in me, the business, and the food. With their help, we promoted Ram Ki Bandi on social media and received a positive response. The pandemic slowed down our expansion plans but in 2021, we opened five outlets across Hyderabad and launched a franchise model for the business,” says Ram.
He has employed 70 others and caters to over 1,000 customers in each stall, but Ram notes that it’s hard to keep track of the customers who throng his little eatery every day. Now, his father is taking a break from toiling at the stall, and enjoying the fruits of his hard work, thanks to his son.
About the legacy of Ram Ki Bandi, Ram says, “People visit the stall not only to taste our food, but also for a unique experience. In a quiet street, from midnight to early morning, you’ll find only our stall bustling with people. Even foreigners visiting the city stop at the bandi to taste crispy cheesy dosas. It is always a part of their itinerary. I believe it is our quick service, hot food, a menu of so much variety, and modest prices that keep us close to their hearts.”