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The 25-yr-old who is spreading smiles through food

Last updated on: November 13, 2013 18:24 IST

The 25-yr-old who is spreading smiles through food

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Sathyanarayana G, Yourstory.in

Vijay Abhimanyu Rajendran who founded Billion Smiles Hospitality Pvt Ltd in 2007 at age 19 talks about his inspiration behind launching the south Indian chain of restaurants and how he intends to spread smiles through his venture, both nationally and internationally.

Vijay Abhimanyu Rajendran, a 25-year-old second generation entrepreneur is the force behind Billion Smiles Hospitality Pvt Ltd.

Started about six years ago with a single casual dining restaurant, there are currently three business verticals operating under Billion Smiles which include casual dining, catering business and quick service restaurants.

Of these, two of their casual dining brands -- South Indies and Bonsouth -- have already become popular, meanwhile another brand called Upsouth, which operates as a fast food chain is equally gaining momentum.

Billion Smiles is driven with a vision to build a strong brand which is highly scalable in India and eventually aspire to take it internationally with south Indian cuisine.

We caught up with young Vijay Abhimanyu, 19, who started Billion Smiles in 2007.

For the launch of their first restaurant, South Indies, the initial investment came from Billionways, which is a holding company of Billion Smiles and is founded by his father Venkat Rajendran.

With 14 outlets already operating in Bangalore and Pune, in the next five years, Vijay Abhimanyu says the company has plans to go pan-India, expanding massively to open more than 250 outlets and establish their presence abroad.

In the candid conversation that follows, the young entrepreneur talks about his inspiration to start a south Indian chain of restaurants, challenges he confronted when he started up and his illustrious vision for the company.

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Image: Vijay Abhimanyu Rajendra
Photographs: Courtesy Yourstory.in

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What motivated you to start at such a young age?

Everyone was entrepreneurial in my family, that's what pushed me to start something on my own. And my father always used to tell that this economy will be built and driven by entrepreneurs and we will build India in to one of the top three nations, in spite of governance. But entrepreneurs will drive growth and this is evident in the last 15 years in our country. So that is something which excited me.

One thing which came as revelation was the fact that there was consumer retail consumption driven business had reached a significant scale.

We see KFCs and McDs with thousands of outlets doing extremely well, building nation-wide brand, moving to international markets, this was the trend which was clearly visible. And during that time, it had only about seven per cent of penetration through organised operators. This was a huge opportunity and there were lots of data points that indicated at targeting markets from the West, Europe, China etc for expansion.

These markets had chain restaurant penetration to an extent of 40 to 50 per cent. This was a major driving factor and we knew that it was going to happen some day, and now it's finally happening.

As a business the space seemed right, the opportunity seemed fantastic, the timing, perfect, so the idea really appealed to me.

At that point, my dad decided to back this venture and the initial seed money came from the group holding company Billionways and that's how we started Billion Smiles Hospitality in 2007.


Image: Inside UpSouth, a casual dining restaurant that has two outlets in Bangalore and one in Pune
Photographs: Courtesy UpSouth's Facebook Page

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What were your initial challenges when you decided to start up?

Both my father and I belong to IT backgrounds and had no former experience of running a restaurant before. So we made it a professionally-run business from Day one. But core competence and capability in south Indian food was a challenge. So we got Mr Ventatesh Bhat who is a former employee of the Taj and Leela group who bought along with him the core competence of south Indian cuisine.

We'd always wanted to specialise in this and convert south Indian food into a casual dining brand and occupy the up-market south Indian dining space which was vacant.

What were your early advantages when you started out?

South Indian is probably is the only cuisine which is apt for a fast food all day dining format particularly in the Indian cuisine. You can have idly and dosa any time of the day.

The product is friendly for an 8 am to 11 pm offering. At the same time you have north Indian food which is generally a meal-centric offering. It's more lunch- and dinner-centric offering; not necessarily an all-day diner. This gives south Indian cuisine an edge to build a highly scalable fast food experience.

Secondly, the south Indian cuisine is the most sought after cuisines in terms of popularity across the country. Traditional cuisine like idly, vada, dosa etc, is liked by people across demographics and have indicated to be the popular cuisine in the country today.

If you look at Bangalore alone, it has more than 2500 Darshinis in the home market segment. In the north and western market, it's more of an exotic and unique market which has not been penetrated.


Image: Inside BonSouth, a fast food restaurant in Bangalore
Photographs: Courtesy BonSouth's Facebook Page

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