Though NR Mahendran was more than happy to be behind gears in his yard, his passion lay in the ladle.

Photo Essay This Chennai restaurant isnt just about food but also serves you inspiration
Features Thursday, June 09, 2016 - 18:22

As you munch on a serving of falafels, sipping a steaming cup of coffee at the Chennai based multi-cuisine joint Haven Sampoorna, you cannot help but wonder about the randomly scattered artworks on the wall. On the face of it, the bold prints of black and red, featuring familiar faces like Charlie Chaplin and Sundar Pichai to even a portrait of a black Volkswagen Beetle, might come across as haphazard. Dig a little deeper, however and you would decode the meaning, as the restaurant’s founder says with a hearty laugh.

‘Heart does shine’ reads one print featuring Iron Man fame Robert Downey Jr, while another featuring Elvis Presley reads ‘Unusual..Proactive’.

So what is this all about? What’s the story here?

“More than a tale, every single artwork on this wall has an attitude to speak about,” explains NR Mahendran, founder of the restaurant. What might seem like motivational pieces skewered across the wall has a tale to tell.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the 100 Feet Velachery Bypass road, in 2001, a small time bike mechanic, with a few extra bucks in hand had just opened his second garage in town. Though NR Mahendran was more than happy to be behind gears in his yard, his passion lay in the ladle. “And like that, I turned the 300 something sq ft motor garage into a humble food joint in 2009,” says Mahendran.

Learning all that he could about two-wheelers from a 3-month stint at GD Naidu Charities in Coimbatore, Mahendran started his first garage in the late 1980s, with a couple of loans here and there. Though rough in the beginning, things changed for the good when he finally left the business to pay heed to his interest-cooking. But the ride wasn’t easy.

“As they say, restaurant business rates face the maximum amount of failure. And I was prepared to fail,” says Mahendran. “There is no simple algorithm to please people in this business. Handling bikes with spanners seemed much easier than putting out a plate of food, a customer is satisfied with,” he laughs, narrating incidents of the restaurant’s dry spells, owing to its strict choice of vegetarian food.

Keeping in mind the very struggles of rising from a small time technician to a successful restaurateur, Mahendran decided to incorporate glimpses of those very attitudes which helped him grow, into his interiors.

“While Robert Downey Jr’s uplifting comeback into stardom, recovering from substance abuse signifies ‘endurance’, Presley’s dive into music without any formal training speaks about ‘passion’,” says Mahendran. “And of course Sundar Pichai’s strokes of triumph from humble roots, needless to say signifies ‘aspiration’,” he continues.

“More often than not, they do not look. But here and there I catch a few looking at the prints, with a perplexed look on their face,” he laughs. “A little trigger to the imagination while enjoying a cuppa never hurts”