McDonalds vs Muniyandi Vilas

“Large organization is loose organization. Nay, it would be almost as true to say that organization is always disorganization,” Gilbert K. Chesterton

It is hard to come across a town in Tamil Nadu without a ‘Muniyandi Vilas’ restaurant. These restaurants are named after Lord Muniyandi, a village deity. The unique thing about the “chain” of restaurants is that they are not owned by one person or one organization. Instead, these restaurants belong to Vilambu Naidu, a community of Telugu speaking people.

The story begins in 1934. There was a young man by name Subba Naidu, who lived in Vadakkampatti, a small village (about 40kms from my hometown, Rajapalayam). He was jobless. Nobody in his family respected him. Subba Naidu badly wanted to do something, preferably, a non-farm activity, and earn money to prove his worth. One day in his dream, Lord Muniyandi appeared and directed him to open a restaurant in His name.

Subba Naidu believed it was not just a dream. He told his family about what happened in the night and managed to borrow Rs 500 (a princely amount then) from his mother-in-law to start a hotel. Thus born was the amazing success story of Madurai Muniyandi Vilas restaurants.

Subba Naidu started his first restaurant in a neighbouring town. His restaurant was an overnight success. Subba Naidu would have ridden on the wave of success all by himself. But he went back to his village and encouraged members of his community, most of who were subsisting with meagre and irregular income from farming, to get into the restaurant business. He even funded his community members if they came forward to set up their own eateries. The beneficiaries, in turn, funded others to give it back. Gradually, many of his community members jumped the bandwagon and started restaurants in different places of Tamil Nadu and neighboring States.

Currently, there are over 800 Muniyandi Vilas restaurants in South India today (including one in China and Dubai), making it perhaps the largest chain of restaurants owned by a single community in the world!

All restaurants are free to use ‘Muniyandi Vilas’ in their name. All name boards feature a red color background with white or yellow colored letters. You would find the same non-vegetarian menu (typical Muniyandi delicacies are mutton sukha, mutton varuval kulambu, mutton paya, liver fry, brain fry, chicken fry and kadai fry.) They taste almost the same everywhere.

Like the original promoter, Subba Naidu, servers in all these restaurants carry all food items on a big plate to show it to the guests and ask them to select. The ordered food item would be served hot a little later.

How these restaurants manage their ‘brand identity’, ‘recipe standardization’, ‘service operations’, etc without a centralized management like that of, say, McDonalds, can merit a Harvard case study, I suppose.

I think one of the enablers of standardization is the community connection and spirit the restaurants enjoy. The restaurant owners save the money earned through the first bill every day for donating it to the temple of Lord Muniyandi, where they congregate in thousands to celebrate a two-day festival of annadhaan (free food for the public) at Vadakkampatti (the village of Subba Naidu).

The annadhaan festival is a thanksgiving ritual. Subba Naidu started it about 76 years ago. But it is also an informal knowledge sharing platform for the community of restaurant owners to learn from each other.

Though its popularity has steadily come down these days, Madurai Muniyandi Vilas still stands tall as a story of achieving standardization and growth without an operations manual and a centralized organization.