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The culinary show goes on at Saravana Bhavan, employees pay tribute to 'Annachi'

twitter-logoPTI | July 18, 2019 | Updated 20:04 IST

By Kunal Dutt New Delhi, Jul 18 (PTI) The culinary show must go on, he had said. And so it did at Saravana Bhavan outlets here with customers streaming in to tuck into steaming idlis, vadas, dosas and so much more in keeping with the wishes of its founder P Rajagopal who died in custody on Thursday. The 73-year-old, whose life story of humble beginnings, entrepreneurship and passion for food, was edged with mystery and a murder conviction, died in a Chennai hospital days after he surrendered to serve a life sentence for killing an employee in 2001. In far away Delhi, most customers were unaware of the import of the day at the chain's two outlets in Janpath and Connaught Place. But two posters, one in Tamil and the other in English, were put up outside for those who paused in their busy day to stop and read. "Condolences... Our founder emperor of south Indian restaurants 'Annachi' Shri P Rajagopal passed away today (18-07-2019). The restaurant will remain open as he desired," read the message. It was business as usual therefore with the restaurants renowned for its south Indian cuisine packed as they are everyday. Chefs kept the kitchen running and waiters rushed out holding trays piled high with lip smacking food. "We got the news of his death around 11 am, and many of our guests had already arrived by then. Besides, it was our founder's wish to not close the outlets even on the day of his death. Out of respect for his wishes, we have not shut down," a senior employee told PTI. The staffer at the Janpath outlet -- a 240-seater space that was the first in Delhi and opened 16 years ago -- said many guests did not know about the death of Annachi, as Rajagopal was respectfully known. The second Hotel Saravana Bhavan to open in Delhi was the Connaught Place outlet. The chain, which started in 1981 in Chennai, went on to open branches across India and also in 20 countries, including the US, the UK, Singapore and New Zealand. P J Anthony, who is in his 80s and said he travels from Gurgaon to Janpath almost every day and loves his Saravana breakfast, said the restaurant should have been closed on Thursday. "But then I read the poster and learned about the wish of its late founder to continue to operate it even on the day of his death. He did not just start a restaurant chain but a culinary phenomenon," he said. Cochin-born Anthony, 81, who earlier worked with the New York Times office in Delhi, said he had been coming to the Janpath outlet since it opened in Delhi. "The demand for their tasty food has only grown over time. I occasionally eat dinner here as well," Anthony told PTI, enjoying his 'appam' and filter coffee. Delhi resident Arun Kalara, who works in a central ministry, chose to have lunch at the Janpath outlet on Thursday and invited his friend from Gurgaon to join in. "I keep coming here, the food is delicious and service is prompt. My favourite item would be uthappam," he said. Sunil Saini, his friend, who came for the first time, was amazed to see the huge crowd waiting outside the restaurant. Inside, large, old colour photographs of Rajagopal, crowned 'Dosa king' by many, hung on the walls. A black and white portrait garlanded with roses was mounted on an easel near the entrance for employees and others to pay tribute. The opening page of the very extensive menu has a scroll about the man who started the empire. "Humble beginnings driven by passion and dreams to make it big is the perfect recipe for constant success. With modest roots tracing back to 1981, our founder Thiru P Rajagopal, fondly called 'Annachi', always believed that good food begets a satisfied soul," read the opening lines of the piece 'Travails of a Trend Setter' in the menu. Rajagopal had been convicted for killing an employee whose wife he was interested in. He initially attempted to make her his third wife and after failing in his endeavour, plotted the abduction and murder of her husband, the top court noted in its judgement. But on Thursday, that sordid story seemed to have got lost somewhere in the whiff of fragrant food and the platters of food rolling out of the many Saravana Bhavan kitchens across the world. PTI KND MIN MIN MIN

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