mtr business model
On 25th of June 1975
the Indira Gandhi government officially declared a
The fundamental rights were curbed,
the press was censored and within a fortnight
the livelihood of 620 million Indians was at stake.
Little did they know that the next 21 months of their lives
would be known as the darkest chapter in the history of
And all of this was happening during a time
when India was already witnessing a socioeconomic crisis.
During this time, let alone business prosperity
even survival was considered to be a miracle.
And the story that I’m about to tell you today
is the story of one such miracle wherein
amidst this economic nightmare
while most businesses were shutting down
there was one incredible businessman
who turned this very same emergency into an business
and built a business empire that now has a revenue of 1000
This businessman is Mr Sadananda Maiya
and the company that I’m talking about is Mavalli Tiffin
which is popularly known as MTR.
The question is- What was so special about MTR
and how was it able to turn an economic nightmare into a
business opportunity ?
The answer to this question lies in the rich history of MTR
that dates back to 1924.
This is when the Maiya family started the MTR restaurant
with the vision to serve the most authentic,
hygienic and the tastiest South Indian food to its
And the entire family was so dedicated to their profession
that even during the post-independence time when the country
was witnessing a political turmoil
they still served the most authentic, hygienic
and the tastiest South Indian food in town.
Within a few years the restaurant became so popular
that it became a hotspot for tourists
television personalities and even film stars.
But after 5 long decades of prosperity; in 1975
when the emergency was imposed
the family hit a dead end due to the socio-economic crisis.
During this time, apart from the emergency
India had already seen 2 bad agricultural years
and due to the formation of OPEC
the oil prices had quadrupled
and the inflation in the country had skyrocketed to 15%.
The situation was so bad that the government had to stop all
new construction work
they froze the wages and salaries in the public sectors
And imposed compulsory savings on income tax payers.
And this meant that every single rupee was a lifesaver for a
middle class person
and it obviously meant that rarely anybody ever went to a
On top of that, the government required every restaurant
to conform to prices set by the government
and it was practically impossible
to run a profitable restaurant business with those given
For example, under the President’s rule, the price of Idli
was clipped to 10p from 25p
while a cup of coffee
which costed one rupee was to be sold for just 25p.
Now, people, when something like this happens most of the
do either one or many of these 3 things to survive.
And this is something that you would’ve seen even during the
Number one, they do extreme cost cutting and fire all of
Number two, they indulge in adulteration
and serve extremely low quality food to their customers
which eventually leads to health hazards.
Or number three
they just shut their shop altogether
and wait for the situation to get back to normal.
And this is exactly what the restaurant owners did in 1975
because they saw no other option to survive.
But you know what ?
Even during this time
MTR foods still served the most authentic,
hygienic and the tastiest South Indian food to its customers
without compromising on their quality.
And not just that
They retained most of their employees
and built a supply chain that was so robust
that when the emergency was lifted
MTR went on to become one of the most successful food
companies in the country.
The question is- What exactly was this strategy and what was
so special about it ?
As it turns out,
when the government imposed the prices the MTR restaurants
They were loosing out ₹25,000 on weekdays
and lost upto 1 lakh rupees during weekends.
But even during that time
Sadanand Maiya sir was not willing to compromise on his
family business values.
At the same time
he did not want to fire any of the employees because they
had stayed loyal to the business for decades
So you know what ?
He took a bold step to shut down the restaurant altogether
and made 3 strategic changes to it’s business.
Number one, he realised
that inspite of the emergency, the demand for food did not
It’s just that the purchase power of the customers had
And the supply chain of the restaurant was too costly to
actually cater to their demands.
So, to reduce the cost he moved from cooked food to packed
Because of this the heavy cost and loss due to perishable
items was completely eliminated.
On top of that
instead of adulterating the costly ingredients
he changed the ingredients altogether.
they moved from rice idlis to rava idlis
to make idlis cost effective.
And even today, Rava Idli is one of MTR’s signature dishes.
since he could not comply by the prices imposed by the
he turned the same restaurant into a grocery store
and started selling food mixes via grocery sales.
And last and most importantly
he trained his entire staff
to build an efficient supply chain to make packed food
and sold it at an affordable price.
In the corporate world this is what we call as reskilling.
And that is how ladies and gentlemen
MTR was able to survive the emergency
without compromising on its business values.
And guess what ?
As soon as the emergency was lifted
MTR restaurant reopened but this time
along with the restaurant
they had a ready to fire manufacturing chain
which produced nothing but high quality products.
Soon enough it extended to multiple food mixes
like pickles, like spices and even special spice mixtures.
Fast forward to today
MTR has emerged as one of the finest food brands in the
with a revenue of almost 1000 crores.
And MTR exports its products to 21 countries
including US, UK, Australia and Japan.
And most importantly
it has successfully stood the test of time for 97 years
without ever compromising its values
And even during the COVID crisis,
10 years after Maiya sir stepped down
The company is still setting very high standards for change
management in the industry.
While most companies were clueless
and struggled to keep their supply chain intact during the
MTR foods had already doubled their inventory level
from 14 days to 30 days capacity.
And while the first lockdown was imposed on 25th of March
MTR rigorously started preparing for the crisis way back
from 10th March itself.
And this is when
none of us had a clue that our lives were about to change
And that is how time and again
by turning a business threat into a business opportunity
MTR has consistently set a benchmark for other brands to
Now there are 3 very important lessons that we need to learn
from this iconic case study.
Number one and this is something that
has been followed by Dhirubhai Ambani sir better than
wherein his policy was
everytime you see a market crisis you need to realize
that your competitors are facing the exact same crisis as
The question is
are you going to see it as an obstacle and succumb to it or
treat it as a business opportunity and get way ahead of your
money can build a company
but it takes guts, quality and values to build a brand.
And last and most importantly
as much as the Internet is filled with American and European
business case studies
we often fail to realise the fact that
India has had a long history of political and economic
and the adversity has been so much
that let alone business, even staying alive was considered
to be a big deal.
But even during these times we have had some incredible
who were able to build a business empire
and have established a golden legacy for us to follow
and we being in the Indian markets need to pay very close
to these lesser known goldmines
because they have got nuggets of wisdom that can turn us
into extraordinary business leaders of this country.
I spent hours in researching about startups.
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