The story of Chennai’s popular joint Seena Bhai Tiffin Centre is nothing short of a movie — it has a love story, a villain, betrayal, and a happy ending.
The story began in the late 60s when Vadamalpettai’s Srinivasa Naidu and Sathyavathi Ammal migrated from Rajamahendravaram (Rajahmundry) to Chennai city for work separately, but at the same time.
While Sathyavathi took up a job as a domestic help, Srinivasa began to work as an attendant buying cigarettes and tea for members of the MUC Club.
They would take the same route while returning home and would eye each other while crossing the path. Eventually, they fell in love and got married.
Meanwhile, Srinivasa was hired as a co-partner in another club in the early 1970s. Just as his life was coming on track in terms of finances, a friend reached out for monetary help.
“The friend had incurred losses, so my dad helped him set up a pushcart tiffin shop opposite the club in 1976. However, the friend stole my father’s money and went rogue, leaving him with nothing,” says his son Solomon Santhanam.
“Things became worse when the Indira Gandhi administration shut down clubs. With only a pushcart as his prized possession, my father opened a food stall,” he adds.
It was christened ‘Seena Bhai’ because the club members, especially those from North India, addressed Srinivasa as that.
Srinivasa and Sathyavathi channelled their inner chef and recreated their traditional recipes to offer something that wasn’t already available.
At 40 paise, the couple sold idli and oothappam along with vengayam (onion) and mint chutneys prepared in Andhra style.
Santhanam says, “Idli and oothappam continue to be our bestselling items. My father used to make four oothappams at once back then. Seeing the high demand we had to purchase a tawa that made 36 oothappams.”
Besides oothappam, some of their bestselling items are pani puri, grilled toast, cheese toast, elaneer payasam, and hot and cold badam milk.
Today, Seena Bhai Tiffin Centre has come a long way — from making six oothappams at 40 paise to now earning Rs 25,000 daily.