Sixty five-year-old Chinnathambi is not a rich man, he himself is working as a cook at a resort to feed his family of five members. Nevertheless, he is feeding innumerable poor people on the streets by selling food. He has set up a small shop which has become famous among the poor and needy. Chinnathambi’s dosa shop in Tiruchi city stands out from the rest. Why it has become unique is that Chinnathambi charges his poor customers just Rs 2 per dosa.
He has worked as a cook at a nearby resort for the last 5 years. The resort’s owner assisted him in setting up the shop. “We took the decision to serve dinner on purpose. While there are pushcarts all around the city selling lunch, a delicious meal is hard to come by. He advises against sleeping on an empty stomach.
Chinnathambi’s tiny dosa business, located on a little street near the Woraiyur police station, has been feeding hundreds of customers every day for the past six years. “For many years, I worked as a cook in a nearby restaurant. Then I decided to create my own business where I can sell food at a low price that even the poorest people can afford,” Chinnathambi says.
Chinnathambi’s life has always been challenging, and he still struggles to make ends meet. “There were evenings when I was a kid when I had to sleep on an empty stomach.” I’ve experienced poverty and hunger. We hardly pay our expenses even after running the shop,” he adds.
Chinnathambi sells small dosas for Rs 2 and Rs 3 for idli podi sprinkled on it. He also makes ‘Uttappam’, a type of thick dosa topped with onions and carrots, for just Rs 4. “We also provide five side dishes along with the dosas without any extra charges. Two kurmas, two chutneys and sambar are always available and free with the dosas,” he says.
Besides dosas, items like idli, parotta, different varieties of uttapams, omelette, etc, are also available at his shop, which is open from evening 6.30 pm till midnight 11.30 pm every day.
“At the moment, we have 24 variety of dishes in our shop.” The most popular dosa is the Rs 2 dosa. Many people on the street cannot afford to eat on a regular basis. They come to my shop with a Rs 10 note, however, and leave with a happy stomach. With a smile, Chinnathambi replies, “That’s plenty for me.”
Although his shop lacks a large eating area or nice furniture, visitors are content to sit on plastic stools placed in front of the shop.
“Lunch is widely available at low pricing on pushcarts across the city,” Chinnathambi adds when queried about just serving dinner. However, I believe that finding a restaurant to eat at a reasonable price is tough. So that was my thought: no one should go to bed hungry.”
Chinnathambi’s daily routine has remained unchanged for the past six years. Every day, he gets up at 4 a.m. to soak the rice and urad dal for the batter. “I go to the market every day to get veggies and other cooking ingredients.” The batter is then made and let to ferment until nightfall. Every day, we grind about 12 kg of grains and 3 kg of urad dal,” he explains.
“We are able to continue the business because our family is involved; we are not in it for the money.” Some individuals come with only ten dollars and eat three dosas and an omelette. I’ve gone to bed hungry on numerous occasions, and I wouldn’t wish that on my greatest enemy,” he says.
Mr. Chinnathambi gets up at four o’clock in the morning to soak rice and urad dal for the batter. “Let the rice and dal soak until 11 a.m., then grind.” “We’ll leave the batter to ferment until we’re ready to open the shop,” he explains.
His wife and two daughters have been assisting him with all aspects of the shop’s operations. “I’m only able to run this shop because my family is also participating.” “My wife and daughters assist me with everything and work in the shop with me until midnight,” Chinnathambi says.
His business, like everyone else’s, was hampered by the COVID-induced shutdown. He declares. “During the lockout, we had to close our shop.” However, we were able to deal with the situation by ordering takeout.”
Meanwhile, Chinnathambi and his wife prepared coconut and ‘kara’ chutney, as well as two types of kurma and sambhar. They are assisted by his two children, one in Class 12 and the other in Class 10. “Every night, we grind 9 kilos of rice.” “There have been evenings when we ran out of batter and had to purchase it from a neighbouring store,” he says.
Every day, more than 100 customers eat dinner at Chinnathambi’s store. Every day, he prepares 600 to 800 dosas. People who work at the Woraiyur market during the day and a lot of youth are among his prospects. “They came to test it out after watching YouTube videos about my shop,” he says. Kids
Chinnathambi prepares 600 to 800 dosas per day. He barely has enough money to buy veggies and other raw ingredients for the following day. “While the majority of my customers are locals, many come from other cities to eat my dosa after watching multiple YouTube movies about my shop.” Also, a lot of kids and teenagers come to my business with their pocket money to buy dosas,” he says.
“I don’t make enough money to save, but I do make enough money to run the firm on a daily basis.” With a chuckle, he adds, “There’s also enough to cover my business and dwelling rent.”0
(Geetha is the founder of Powerfulteacher.com. An organisation that works for the elderly)